Tag Archives: hannah hoch

Mamas of Dada

Dada was the first gender inclusive avant-garde art movement in Europe. It is impossible to understand its history without knowing something about the many women in Dada. However, the structure of art history led to the men acting as if they were being written about and writing much of the group’s history. So it was not until recently that these women artists and writers have been studied.

Mamas of Dada is a scholarly examination the lives of six women involved with Dada: Emmy Hennings, Gabrielle Buffet, Germaine Everling, Céline Arnauld, Juliette Roche, and Hannah Höch. They come from variety of backgrounds, working class to upper class, and gives a perspective on the lives of avant-garde European women. Some of these Mamas of Dada were actual mothers (someone should write Children of Dada).

Emmy Hennings was obviously the star of the Cabaret Voltaire but before this book all I had were a series of contradictory impressions — the Berlin cabaret singer, the Dada puppeteer and the devoted Catholic convert. The only child of work-class parents Hennings had been a maid, cleaner, washer woman, actress, nightclub singer, part-time prostitute, thief, poet, and later in life, a novelist.

Although neither Gabrielle Buffet and Germaine Everling were exactly participants because of their relationship with Picabia both provide a view of Dada in New York, Barcelona, Zurich, and Paris. Although Buffet’s music career ended when she marries Picabia she continued to write and lecture about avant-garde art. Everling, Picabia’s lover, provides more critical views of the Dadaists along with her hat and arms for Man Ray’s photo of Duchamp as Rrose Selavy.

Before Kamenish’s book I knew nothing about Céline Arnauld, the one woman poet and publisher amongst the Paris Dada. Aside from her name appearing in lists of contributors to many Dada publications and her face in photographs, the one woman amongst all the men.

Likewise I was ignorant of the painter and poet, Juliette Roche. Kamenish explains Roche’s privileged background: “everything converged to make the daughter of Jules Roche the most perfect of snobs, she was saved by painting.”

Hannah Höch the mother of photomontage is the best known of all the women in Dada. She preserved an archive of Dada material from the Nazis by burying it in her Berlin garden. In this chapter Kamenish’s interest in literature rather than visual arts is clear as she even examines a poem by Höch; Kamenish is an associate professor of Enblish at the University of North Caroline Wilmington.

Kamenish exposes the sexism in Dada – Francis Picabia and Raoul Hausmann the whole of Berlin Dada club. Their famous nihilism did not extend to male chauvinism. Who amongst all the men in European Dada who could act towards women as a colleague (and was not as a sexist pig)? Hannah Höch’s  list is Kurt Schwitters and Hans Arp.

In the final chapter Kamenish provides brief biographies on seventeen other women involved with Dada including Sophie Täuber, Susanna Duchamp and some of the women in the Von Laben School of Dance in Zurich. There is much more to the story of these women that needs to be researched and written especially on their influence on textile and performing arts. Then there are women involved in New York Dada: Mina Loy, Beatrice Wood, and Baroness von Freytag-Loringhoven. More needs to be written about these women but Paula K. Kamenish’s Mama of Dada is an important step.

Paula K. Kamenish Mamas of Dada – Women of the European avant-garde (The University of South Carolina Press, 2015)


Now let us talk of minor artists

I’ve heard about an AI program that worked with some basic logic routines and lots of facts. The AI program would make conclusions based on the facts that it was given and the programmers would try to add more facts so that it would arrive at correct conclusions. One of the incorrect conclusions that the program made was that most people are famous. So the programmers had to give it telephone directories of people who were not famous until it didn’t come to that conclusion. It is not just an AI program that makes this error, so I’m writing about the artists who aren’t famous, who aren’t the great artists – the minor artists.

What do I mean by a minor artist? This is not a reflection on the quality of their work. We all know who the major artists are – their names are so familiar, but aren’t we over the great man theory of history. There are major artists of a particular country, century, decade, style etc. Then there are the secondary artists who for reasons of fate rather than talent, or vice versa, never became as famous as the major artists. And then there are the artists who are neither as prodigiously talented nor as fortunate as the first two groups but who still produce good art, sometimes even, important art. They are the minor artists.

These artists may not be familiar names but they do the bulk of the work in the art world, not just creating the most of the art but working in art supply shops, teaching art, hanging exhibitions, etc. These are the artists who make up the numbers, who drink all the wine at the exhibition openings.

Fate, or luck plays a major part in part in the lives of all artists. The major artists were lucky to be born at the right time in the right place to the right people. The fortunate few great major artists are not good samples as they are the exceptions. Consequently they are poor examples to teach or expect other artists to follow.

Dada is an interesting art movement to learn about minor artists. Even with two major artists, like Marcel Duchamp and Man Ray, and a few secondary artists, there are enough minor artists are necessary to the story of the landmark movement for a balanced picture to appear. Johannes Baader, Richard Huelsenbeck, Hannah Höch and Beatrice Wood all spring to mind.

What can we learn from minor artists that we can’t learn from major artists? That making art is not necessarily a career, that it may not be your primary profession, that making art can be a hobby, or something that you do for a few years or return to in retirement. We can learn what it is like to be an ordinary artist and what an ordinary artists does.

I went to a talk recently on how to be a critic given by Claire Armitstead, The Guardian’s literary editor and one of the many things that she commented on was the difficulty of writing 3 star reviews. It is necessary to have 3 star reviews because the majority of anything will be average. The average review is a similar problem to writing about all the minor artists necessary to balance the story of art. So I am writing this blog post about all the artists who are not famous and their significance in the story of art.


Collage @ the Counihan

Collage art is popular, people generally like it. They are familiar with it and have often done some themselves. They also like the amusing juxtapositions and fantastic transformations that can be created with collage. After seeing many collages by many artists, including artists, like Max Ernst who are notable for their collage work; I think that the charm of collage is that the results are all pretty good but rare does anything rise above this standard.

In preparation for the exhibition of collages at the Counihan Gallery I found Cut & Paste – 21st Century Collage by Richard Brereton with Caroline Roberts (Lawrence King Publishing, 2011, London) at the Coburg Library. But it wasn’t that helpful; the book has great design, lots of pictures, love the cover, but almost no content except for a very brief introduction and equally brief introduction to each of the artists. The artists weren’t exceptional; more good collages but that’s it.

The catalogue for “Cut With The Kitchen Knife” is a better read; in it the curator, Emily Jones explains the history of collage as art and introduces the exhibiting artists. The exhibition gets its title from a collage by Hannah Hoch. There are plenty of good collages in the exhibition but there are some artists in this exhibition who move beyond tradition of the Cubist collages and the Dada/Surrealist collage.

There is the optical intensity of Elizabeth Gower’s “Savings” series made with the repetition of printed discount promotions. Combining op-art with the optical features of advertising design transforming the everyday into art.

Christian Capurro also uses advertising material but he erases rather than combines images. Now this isn’t exactly collage, although sticky tape is used, but is certainly worth including in the exhibition because the work is almost anti-collage and the images he produces from meat advertisements have the fantastic qualities of combined realities found in collage.

Mandy Gunn’s work has a permanent presence in the lobby of the Counihan but it was good to see more of her work. Gunn takes collage and deconstructing books in a post-minimalist direction. Text, music scores or Braille are shredded into small sections and arranged in a grid with variations of wave formations.

The exhibition was light on collages that used objects rather than just paper. Heather Shimmen’s “Suspended Anima” were very surreal and one of the few collages to use three-dimensional elements. Suspended from the gallery ceiling their Rorschach test shapes throwing great patterns on the gallery wall.

Collage continues to use available printing and graphic technology, think of the Dadaist photomontages, and in the 21st Century this extends to digital images. Joan Ross’s digital collage depicting a forged colonial Australian history, “BBQ this Sunday” is animated in a fun 5-minute video.

We live in a cut and paste world and if collage seems ubiquitous “Cut With The Kitchen Knife” demonstrates that there is a future for collage and moves beyond the techniques perceived limitations.


%d bloggers like this: