= The Crawford Arts Review: Hannah Höch at the Whitechapel

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Hannah Höch at the Whitechapel

Hannah Höch studied art in the Berlin of the early 1900s and was an important member of the Berlin Dada group, exhibiting at the First International Dada Fair in 1920. The exhibited works at the Whitechapel come from international collections and shows more than 100 of Höch's works, the first major exhibition of her work in the UK.

The Whitechapel Gallery has excelled itself in introducing the artist and her paintings, photomontages, collages and lino- and woodcuts, both in the galleries and in a series of events running over the next weeks (see below).

Her use of paint, photomontage and material taken from magazines and journals to create new works is exemplary. Look what she does with figures torn from illustrations in the series “From an Ethnographic Museum”. In the work shown here, she paints a background of gouache and adds that eye. A piece of ancient artefact comes alive for a moment. 

Hannah Höch, Aus der Sammlung: Aus einem ethnographischen Museum (From the Collection: From an Ethnographic Museum) 1929, collage and gouache on paper 26 x 17.5 cm, Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh, bequeathed by Gabrielle Keiller, 1995; courtesy of Whitechapel Gallery.

Seek out Mutter (Mother) in Gallery 1. How many ways can you read this work? With collage and watercolour Höch shows you first the tired – jaded? – eye of the mother. The second eye is morphed into a tiny stone crater – unseeing (of the faults of her children? Of what is going on around her in Weimar Germany?) It was painted in 1925–26, a period of the greatest social upheaval. The work also references the inanimate being that the living mother will become, a sign of the transition going on around her. It can immediately be seen what a huge influence works such as this have had on the practise of photomontage let alone the practise of satire. It has been lent by the Centre Pompidou.

Höch works with devastating irony. Two Faced (Zweigesichtig) shows the uptilted “social” face and the Janus side – the private face – downturned, sadder, ashamed, wiser, more knowing – a true psychological study of the times. Note the skill with which the artist uses the dot matrix print format to model the faces.

Höch's themes range from the simple and exquisite – The Blue Page (Das blaue Blatt), watercolour on tracing paper – to the strident, satirical humour of her famous Anti-Review studies of Berlin Cabaret and the well observed studies of children (titles such as “The Sweet One”, and “Our Dear Little Ones” tell us her private thoughts as she models these distorted depictions of children, eyes swollen with unshed tears, mouths open in yells of outrage).

Nor is she afraid to signal the reaction of non-Germans to the scenes around them. In Der Baske (The Basque) we see the eyes of the Catalan visitor wide open in astonishment, the mouth agape, the face almost doubled up in its effort to suppress the stranger's reaction to the scenes around him.

Her contemporaries and admirers included Theo van Doesburg, George Grosz, Piet Mondrian and Kurt Schwitters. For them she was no doubt an example of the strange breed known as the “new woman”. It is left to us to properly assess her work simply as an artist.

Whitechapel Gallery
77-82 Whitechapel High Street
London E1 7QX
E: info@whitechapelgallery.org
Gallery opening times
Monday               CLOSED
Tuesday               11am-6pm
Wednesday        11am-6pm
Thursday             11am-9pm
Friday                    11am-6pm
Saturday              11am-6pm

Sunday                 11am-6pm
Admission to Hannah Höch (15 January - 23 March) costs £9.95/£7.95 concessions (includes £1 voluntary Gift Aid donation). Free for Whitechapel Gallery Members and a guest. Please click here to book tickets in advance (no booking fee required). A limited number of tickets will also be available to purchase on the door (last admission 30 minutes before closing).
Please note that due to the popularity of the exhibition, advance booking is strongly recommended.

Associated events
20 February Gallery Talk: Chisato Minamimura on Hannah Höch
22 February Film: From Dada to Data
5 March Crib Notes: Hannah Höch
Closes Sunday 23 March

Closes Sunday 9th March: Paul Klee at Tate Modern

9 March 2014

Adult £16.50 (without donation £15.00)
Concession £14.50 (without donation £13.10)

Additional booking fee of £1.75 (£2 via telephone) per transaction applies

Special final night opening until 20.00 on Sunday 9 March

Paul Klee, Fire at Full Moon 1933
Museum Folkwang (Essen, Germany), courtesy of Tate Modern

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