Hannah Hoch was a leading Berlin Dada photomontage artist who took the characteristic Dada medium of photomontage and mass-media appropriation to its most challenging heights.
Hoch studied graphic arts and design. She made sewing patterns for women’s magazines. In 1917 when she was a student, she met Raoul Haussmann, the founder of the Berlin Dada movement. She was the only female among the Dadaists. With Hausmann as her lover and colleague, she developed photomontage as an independent art form.
She is best known for her socially oriented work during the Weimar period of 1918-1933. Between 1916 and 1926 Hoch worked for Berlin’s largest publishing house, producing handiwork patterns and writing articles on crafts for a domestically oriented magazine.
While she continued her occupation with traditional materials from the world of craft and handiwork, she created collages of colored papers and embroidery patterns that paid homage to the geometric formality of the new international movements of Constructivism and De Stijl after the disintegration of Dada.
Working on a small scale, Hoch’s photomontages had an edgy vision with the figures cut into, and not cut around. Her photo engravings, with buildings multiplied and interspersed with fragments of machinery, were precisely unified into a whole montage.
Although the status of women improved in Germany after World War I, Hoch focused on women’s issues of birth control and suffrage in a highly critical way. Her message in her 1922 photomontage, “Dada Dance,” seems to be one of ridicule. There are two composite figures: one of which poses in high fashion clothes; the other one is much taller, has a small African head, and looks down on the first figure. At that time Africa represented what was natural, and the African figure seems to be a way for Hoch to contrast natural elegance with superficiality.
From the late 1920s and early 1930s Hoch became involved in a lesbian relationship with the Dutch poet Til Krugman, with whom she lived in the Netherlands from 1926 to 1929. These years proved particularly fruitful for her photomontage work, which delved into questions of the construction of sexual identity and the changing nature of love and relationships in two series entitled “Love” and “Dancers.” In 1938, she would marry Kurt Matthies.
Hoch went into virtual seclusion following the Nazi takeover in 1933. She did not leave Germany but in 1939 remained in suburban Berlin producing montages. Photomontages from the 1930s such as “Resignation” c. 1930 and “Flight” 1931 reflected Hoch’s growing concerns for her safety under the Nazi regime. They also anticipated her withdrawal into a world of fantasy and nature, symbolized by her suburban garden and her photomontages of strange, surreal landscapes. During the 1940s her work was less overtly social than her earlier works. The human figures disappeared, replaced with biomorphic imagery, reflecting her interest in nature and the influence of surrealism.
In 1945, – in a marked departure from her dada collages – Hoch made “Trauernde Frauen” (Mourning Women). This figurative work depicts seven old women standing shoulder to shoulder in front of a dark background. Their mask-like faces and hands are illuminated against the darkness of their clothing and the background. Anguish and grief take away their individuality as their eyes are cast downward to the ground.
By the 1960s, Hoch again focused on images of women who were brash, gaudy, and witty. Her work was marked by humor and elegance with a focus on the media’s portrayal of women and their shifting status in the modern world.
Koch participated in the International Dada Art Fair in Berlin in 1920. She has had numerous solo shows in museums in Germany, Switzerland, Kyoto, and at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. In 2014, she had a major retrospective in London.