Travelling for Culture: Hannah Höch’s Artwork

St Andrews is a creative town, but this spring break I found that going beyond what the bubble has to offer can be a rewarding experience. Hitting some of the most culturally exciting cities, London and Paris, I found some riveting forms of art that had been previously unknown to me. Though I managed to knock off art galleries from a list like dominoes, hitting the V&A, Tate, L’Orangerie, Palais de Tokyo, and the Louvre among others, one gallery really stood out to me. Travelling down to London by train, I took the tube to stay at a friend of a friend’s dorm. The London Tube does a fantastic job to advertise art galleries and other cultural events that are happening in the city. I continued to pass one huge poster in particular from the Whitechapel Gallery announcing their new exhibition of the collected art works of the German collage artist Hannah Höch. With excerpts from reviews naming it the “must see show of the year” and “art’s original punk” from the Evening Standard and The Guardian, my friend and I decided to go there the next day.

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One of the amazing things about this exhibition was that Whitechapel gallery had managed to collect Hannah Höch’s early and later works: a time period spanning from the 1920’s up to the 70’s. This gave me, and everyone else, the unique experience to see the development of Höch’s work, from her early days studying applied art with pattern making, to her abstract Dada days, and finally her post-war WWII works, which were still abstract, and had a colorful calm tone. Hannah Höch (1899-1978) was a part of the Dadaist movement in the 1920’s, an arts movement that was a reaction to the Great War. Höch could deconstruct images and words into a playful work of art with strong political and gender criticisms. In other words, she was sassy, and in a good way. She criticized the fragmented structure of the then German state with equally fragmented, abstract collages, even up to the rise of the National Socialist party in the 30’s. Höch had to move to the outskirts of Berlin when Hitler rose to power for she was an enemy of the Nazi ideology, but she was still strong enough to rebel in the early years. She was daring. In “Love in the Bush” (1925) she depicts a love affair between a white woman and a black man. It is easy to understand why The Guardian would call her work “original punk”.

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Höch, in addition to being a great artist of her time, had very clear idea and belief in the concept of art. The way she understood it, “art [was] on a higher plane than reality itself”. Claiming, “freedom is the first prerequisite. But not lack of discipline however”. She praised how art could change society, to rebel against an idea and to make it better. Her work is all the more impressing seeing as her success was in the midst of a male dominant sphere. Höch gave focus to different standards of beauty, clipping and pasting different ethnicities, ages and genders to make us question these standards.

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I had never truly considered collage as a great artistic art form. Not because I mocked it, but because I always affiliated it with 4th grade school projects which, to no one’s surprise, did not exactly compare to Höch’s collage work. It was refreshing to see something so beautiful and so expressive on a canvas that, for me at least, was almost entirely new.

Images courtesy of the author.

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