CR Muse: The Politics and Humor of Hannah Höch

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This is CR Muse, a series dedicated to the remembrance of important artists and idea-makers from our past who have shaped culture as we know it today. From traditional creators to those of conceptual thought, we celebrate these women known not only for their work but their confident, eccentric style as well.

To say that artist Hannah Höch was ahead of her time is a particularly sad understatement, if only because it shows just how long the conversation about equality of the sexes—and critiquing the construct of the two genders—has been around. Nearly 100 years ago, Höch was advocating for the freedom of women. The artist, who once wrote a short story that satirized how some modern men at the time claimed to support gender equal relationships without actually following through, championed freedom for women. She was a radical in her time, but due to the male-dominated society, she was nearly omitted from history.

Born in 1889, Höch studied graphic design, developing skills she put to use as a Dadaist and as the leader of Photomontage (the art of collaging existing images and pieces of text to create new meaning). Using wry humor, the topics she touched upon were political: She was critical of the government, fascism, and gender roles. Her most famous work, Cut with the Kitchen Knife Dada through the Last Weimar Beer-Belly Cultural Epoch in Germany from 1919, features images of politicians, celebrities, and the city. Women’s heads are spliced on to men’s bodies and vice versa, mocking these men by likening them to women, while also claiming women as equal. A modern woman herself, Höch sported an angular flapper haircut and pursued relationships with both men and women.

Unfortunately, Höch’s career was dramatically stunted when the Nazis ruled her work “degenerate.” With her shows being shut down and with the government watching her, Höch opted to lay low just outside of Berlin. She lived an unassuming life during World War II, but continued to make art for herself.

Her post-war work did not gargner the same attention she received in the 1920s, but she continued to create up until her death in 1978. She had two solo shows (one in Berlin and one in Kyoto), though in her eyes it was perhaps too little too late. “They continued for a long time to look on us women artists as charming and gifted amateurs, denying us any real professional status,” she said of the art world. “Thirty years ago it wasn’t easy for a woman to impose herself as a modern artist in Germany.”

One has to wonder what her exclusion says about the male-dominated world of art and art history (she was notably left out of some major books about Dada). In a way, this patriarchy is what Höch was working against in the first place—to be given equal ground as her male counterparts and to receive the same notoriety. Luckily, Höch’s memory is not lost. As the 20th century was winding down, she was increasingly included in Dada-related retrospectives, and in the past 10 years, there have been five shows dedicated to her work, which feels as radical now as it ever was.

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