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Brian Dillon on Hannah Höch: art's original punk


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For the Guardian, Brian Dillon writes about pioneering German collage artist Hannah Höch and her recent exhibition at Whitechapel in London. Check out an excerpt below, or the full profile here.

The First International Dada Fair took place in Berlin in the summer of 1920, and included works by George Grosz, John Heartfield, Max Ernst and Francis Picabia. Photographs from the opening show the gallery teeming with paintings, posters and scurrilous assemblages; hanging from the ceiling is Prussian Archangel, by Heartfield and Rudolf Schlichter: a pig-faced dummy in military uniform. Suited and spatted, the dadaists comport themselves with dandyish indifference to their own anti-art inventions. There are only two women present, and one of them is the bobbed and diminutive Hannah Höch, who leans playfully on a cane borrowed from Grosz while she looks over the shoulder of her lover, Raoul Hausmann. To the right of the couple is a pasted slogan: “Art is dead. Long live the machine art of Tatlin.” And to the left a large, squarish composition in which one can just about discern faces, text and fragments of machinery.

The work in question is Höch’s photomontage Cut With the Kitchen Knife Dada Through the Last Weimar Beer-Belly Cultural Epoch of Germany. Judging by reviews of the time it was one of the hits of the fair, perhaps because it’s so richly legible in terms of contemporary cultural politics. Ranged in the top right corner are the forces of “anti-dada”: stern representatives of the late empire, the army and the new Weimar government. Below, in the dada corner, are massed artists, communists and other radicals. Raoul Hausmann is being extruded, shat out really, by a machine to which is affixed the head of Karl Marx. There are less crudely anatomical machines scattered about the metre-wide collage, and female film stars such as Pola Negri battle with moustached emissaries of the old German order. In the bottom right corner, Höch has glued a small map showing the European countries in which women could then vote.

*Image: Kleine Sonne (Little Sun), 1969. Photograph: Landesbank Berlin AG.