HANNAH HOCH: A Pioneer of Photomontage, a Pivotal Figure in Dada

Calla Lily ArtArleen Solomon Rotchin5 Comments

Her images of women presaged the ideas of Simone de Beauvoir and Second Wave Feminism, a pivotal figure in Dada, the anti-art movement that outraged conventional opinion in the final years of World War 1.

Her work existed to dismantle the fable and dichotomy that existed in the concept of the ‘New Woman’; an energetic, professional and androgynous woman, who is ready to take their place as man’s equal. 

Imaginary Bride 1926

Imaginary Bride 1926

She was born Anna Therese Johanne Hoch in Gotha, Germany on November 1, 1889.

In 1912, she began classes at the School of Applied Arts in Berlin under the guidance of glass designer Harold Bergen.  She chose glass design and graphics arts, rather than fine arts, to please her father.  

She left school at the start of World War 1 and returned home to work with the Red Cross.  In 1915 she returned to school entering the graphics class of Emil Orlik at the National Institute of the Museum of Arts and Crafts.  She began an influential relationship with Raoul Hausmann, a member of the Berlin Dada movement.  Her affair with Hausmann was stormy-sometimes violent-because Hausmann refused to leave his wife.  He described Hoch’s desire to marry as a bourgeois inclination, but also for her opinions on art.  

She left her 7-year relationship with Hausmann in 1922 and in 1926 she began a relationship with the Dutch writer and linguist Matilda Brugman.  They did not explicitly define their relationship as lesbian but instead chose to refer to it as a private love relationship.  That relationship lasted 9 years and in 1938 Hoch married pianist and businessman Kurt Matthies. She divorced him in 1944.

After her schooling, she worked in the handicrafts department for Ullstein Verlag (the Ullstein Press) designing dress and embroidery patterns for The Practical Berlin Woman.  

The influence of this early work and training can be seen in her later work.  She was one of the originators of photomontage.

Her time working with magazines targeted to women made her acutely aware of the difference between women in media and reality, even as the workplace provided her with many of the images that served as raw material for her own work.  She was critical of marriage, often depicting brides as mannequins and children, reflecting the socially pervasive idea of women as incomplete people with little control over their lives.

Her works from 1926 to 1935 often depicted same sex couples, and women were once again a central theme in her work from 1963 to 1973. 

Her most often used technique was to fuse together male and female bodies.  This fusion existed to give the attributed power of a man to a woman, as well as blur the lines of gender attributed actions.  

She also made strong statements on racial discrimination. 

Hannah Hoch suffered from the Nazi’s censorship of art, and her work was deemed ‘degenerate art’ making it even more difficult to show her works.

Though her work was not acclaimed after the war as it had been before the rise of the Third Reich, she continued to produce her photomontages and exhibit them internationally until her death in 1978.  

She received belated acclaim with the same equanimity with which she had regarded her earlier neglect and the patronizing, even hostile attitudes of her male colleagues.

‘They continued for a long time to look on us women artists as charming and gifted amateurs, denying us any real professional status.  Thirty years ago it wasn’t easy for a woman to impose herself as a modern artist in Germany.’

‘Cut With Kitchen Knife Dada Through the Last Weimer Beer Belly Cultural Epoch in Germany’  

‘Cut With Kitchen Knife Dada Through the Last Weimer Beer Belly Cultural Epoch in Germany’  

This 1919 photomontage by Hannah Hoch reflected her views of the political and social issues that arose during this transitional time in Germany.  She chose to give specifications such as kitchen knife and beer-belly  to make it clear that this piece is social commentary regarding gender issues in post-war Germany.

She also wrote about the hypocrisy of men in the Dada movement in her short essay ‘The Painter’,  published in 1920.

Hannah Hoch has always been referred to as ‘The Woman that Art History Forgot.’