HANNAH HöCH – FIRST LONDON SHOW FOR THE REBEL QUEEN OF PHOTOMONTAGE
The Whitechapel Gallery, in London, has launched the first UK retrospective dedicated to a controversial talent from the past century, often overlooked in art history: Berlin Dadaist and collage pioneer Hannah Höch (1889 – 1978).
More than 100 artworks, from different international collections, trace her artistic and personal journey, from early works influenced by a job as patternmaker and studies in Arts & Crafts – in an era where Fine Art was still considered too ambitious, for women –, to the abstract lyricism of the second post World War. Indeed, great focus is directed towards this later and less known production: a brave curatorial choice, maybe penalised by the vast exhibiting spaces where Höch’s small sized works can appear too far-between and struggling to emerge.
Hannah Höch rebel genius chose soon – from the late 1910s – the fragmentary and versatile medium of montages; cut outs from magazines, newspapers, and original sketches were combined to express a sarcastic yet emotional vision of the world, through disciplined compositions probably influenced by her association with great personalities such as Theo Van Doesburg, Kurt Schwitters and Moholy-Nagy. The result is a sharp and painful satire, braving difficult themes ranging from politics (Staatshäupter (Heads of State), 1918–1919) to private life (From an Ethnographic Museum series, where female bodies are combined with tribal totems and masks), with a stress on identity and gender issues, in anticipation on later feminist theories.
Member of the Berlin Dada, but never really interested in fully integrating within the group – many male Dadaists considered their female colleagues only as “charming and gifted amateurs” [Interview from the 1950s] –, during the Second World War, she retired in the suburbs of Berlin.
Far removed from the New York-centred artistic scene and branded ‘degenerate’ by the Nazis, from the second half of the 1940s, Höch developed a new style, clearly turning towards abstraction. Inspired by everyday life themes, with open references to consumerism and popular culture, her montages became explosive in the colours while maintaining aesthetic tension between harmonies and structures – as expressed in Raumfahrt (Space Travel) (1956) or Um Einen Roten Mund (Around a Red Mouth) (1967).
Höch’s art impresses for its time-defying freshness and originality, still nurturing the contemporary visual horizon, decades after its production
In the era of digital photomontage and restless manipulation of images and intents, Hannah Höch’s experience urges active participation from its audience, through amazement but also critical thinking.
London 15th January – 23rd March 2014