In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • Remaking the Modern WomanThe Dadaist Montages of Hannah Höch
  • Kristine Somerville

Click for larger view
View full resolution

Indian Dancer, Hannah Höch, 1930, The Museum of Modern Art, New York/Art Resource, NY © 2014 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

[End Page 25]

In 1920 the Dadaist movement in Berlin celebrated what it considered the triumph of cut-and-paste collage over brush and paint with the First International Dada Fair. The Dadaists would “take up scissors and cut out all that we require from paintings and photographic representations.” The gallery was filled with political posters, cheap reproductions of famed artworks, ephemera, collaged paintings and photomontages. Among this array of new art was Hannah Höch’s collage Cut with the Kitchen Knife through the Last Weimar Beer-Belly Cultural Epoch of Germany. Its images, taken from mass-media periodicals, mocked well-known male politicians and military figures by endowing them with female body parts. Höch’s message was obvious: the bourgeois patriarchal culture of the Weimar era needed to end. Reviewers found the imagery stunning. Höch was the hit of the fair, and Cut with the Kitchen Knife became the group’s iconic work.

Höch was the only female member of the Berlin Dada group that included the best of the city’s art world: Hans Arp, Johannes Baader, John Heartfield, Otto Dix, George Grosz, Max Ernst and Raoul Hausmann. Originally most of the men had no interest in including her. Grosz and Heartfield were vehemently opposed to her participation; female artists were minor, they felt, gifted amateurs at best. They were overruled when Hausmann persuaded the other members to boycott the event if Höch wasn’t allowed to show her work. Höch would look back thirty years later and admit that it hadn’t been easy for a woman to assert herself as an artist in Germany. At best, her position in the group was marginal. She was occasionally included in other Dadaists’ exhibits, but she was generally out of sync with their message.

Höch agreed that the times were unstable and that they “were living in a world that nobody with any sensitivity could accept or approve,” but she didn’t completely share Dada’s obsession with ’20s technology, consumerism, urbanism and industrialization—what it saw as the messy glory of modern life. Her chief interest was the present-day reality of the New Woman, and she would continue to look at the world from this perspective. She also didn’t agree with her colleagues’ stance against fine art. While they considered the medium of painting “bourgeois,” she maintained formal concerns for composition, color and craft in her work, despite her experimentation and diversity of style.

During the Weimar Republic, two key developments took place that had a profound impact on Höch’s development as an artist: a brisk growth in mass print and the redefinition of social roles of women. The [End Page 26]

Click for larger view
View full resolution

The Beautiful Girl, Hannah Höch, 1920, Private Collection/Art Resource, NY © 2014 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

[End Page 27]

Click for larger view
View full resolution

Seven-League Boots, Hannah Höch, 1934, Hamburger Kunsthalle, Hamburg, Germany, Art Resource, NY © 2014 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

explosion of German publications—thirty-two illustrated weeklies and biweeklies—offered complex and contradictory messages about the rapidly transforming identities of women. Images of empowerment were mixed with more traditional ones of dependency and weakness.

German women had gained the right to vote in 1918 and the right to run for office in 1919; 35 percent were in the workforce, and the birth rate was [End Page 28] declining despite the illegality of birth control. It was acceptable for young women to live and work on their own in the city, and attitudes toward sex had become permissive. Modern dress included shortened hemlines, lowered necklines, bobbed hair and makeup. Despite such changes, Höch was acutely aware that there was a gap between rhetoric and reality. The roles women could play in early...


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 25-35
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.