Photomontage artist John Heartfield, new online exhibition


This video says about itself:

John Heartfield, Fotomonteur by Helmut Herbst

For more about John Heartfield, including never-before-seen private media from his grandson’s collection, please visit here.

Mr. Herbst was kind enough to allow me to present the first five minutes of his documentary “John Heartfield, Fotomonteur” on YouTube.

By Sybille Fuchs in Germany:

German photomontage artist John Heartfield: A new online exhibition

30 April 2020

Numerous museums forced to close by the COVID-19 pandemic have placed current or past exhibitions online, thereby providing the public access to them.

The Academy of Arts (Akademie der Künste—ADK) in Berlin, which controls the estate of the legendary left-wing photomontage artist John Heartfield (1891-1968), has placed online a virtual, multimedia presentation of photos, documents and audio-visual testimonials dealing with Heartfield’s life and work. The online presentation, Kosmos Heartfield, is available in English.

The ADK exhibition, John Heartfield—Photography plus Dynamite, was due to have opened at the end of March.

The virtual exhibition is well done and, in many respects, highly relevant in the present situation. More than virtually any other visual artist, except perhaps his friend George Grosz (1893-1959), Heartfield is associated with the struggle against reactionary forces in Weimar Germany (1919-1933). His innovative and slashing political montages became directed at the rise of Nazism in particular.

As Christoph Vandreier vividly describes in his book Why Are They Back?, which bears one of Heartfield’s photomontages on its front cover, militarists, nationalists and fascists are once again coming out of the pores of crisis-ridden capitalism as in the 1920s and early 1930s and taking up leading positions in the state apparatus, police, military, judiciary and intelligence agencies. Reactionary ideologies are being revived in the universities and frequently picked up and promoted in the media.

Once again, and for the first time since the end of World War II, a far-right party, the Alternative for Germany (AfD), sits in the German parliament as the official party of opposition and occupies leading posts in Bundestag committees. Its xenophobic and anti-refugee policy has been increasingly adopted as official German government policy.

John Heartfield was born on June 19, 1891, in Berlin-Schmargendorf, the son of the writer Franz Held (actually Franz Herzfeld) and his wife Alice. He was the first of four children. He changed his name, Helmut Herzfeld, to an English one to protest Germany’s chauvinist, anti-English propaganda during World War I.

Heartfield was one of a small group of artists and intellectuals who decisively opposed war and militarism in a period when many others went to war enthusiastically, praising the virtues of combat as a “cleansing thunderstorm.” Heartfield’s poor health and nervous conditions meant he was able to avoid murderous trench warfare.

Heartfield’s younger brother, Wieland Herzfelde, also played an important role. The two brothers founded the magazine Neue Jugend (New Youth) and later the Malik Verlag (Malik Publishing House), which specialised in contemporary political art and communist literature during WWI. Heartfield designed the covers for the books published by the Malik Verlag. In typical Dada fashion, he designed a portfolio for Grosz, which appeared in Neue Jugend in 1917.

John Heartfield, War and Corpses, the Last Hope of the Rich

A closer examination, however, of Heartfield’s biography, his problems, the political decisions he made, and the prevailing political circumstances would have helped a contemporary audience to better understand the artist’s rather tragic role and fate. The presentation notes that Heartfield joined the KPD immediately after its foundation in 1919 (as did Grosz). He received his party book from KPD leader Rosa Luxemburg herself, but his decision to side with the working class remains unexplained in the current exhibition.

In fact, Heartfield regarded a workers’ revolution along the lines of the Russian October Revolution of 1917 as the only alternative to capitalist exploitation and warmongering. Further research in the Akademie’s online archive reveals the numerous references, photos and documents that testify to his intense preoccupation with the Russian Revolution. Like many other artists and intellectuals, Heartfield regarded the Communist Party as the only political force that could effectively combat capitalist reaction and its drive towards dictatorship.

It was therefore not surprising that Heartfield produced the powerful photo montages which appeared on the front pages of the KPD newspapers Die Rote Fahne (The Red Flag) and the Arbeiter-Illustrierte-Zeitung (AIZ, Workers Pictorial Newspaper). Many of these montages can be seen in the presentation and a complete documentation is available in the ADK Heartfield online archive.

In the course of the 1920s, the AIZ developed into a publication that found support not only in the working class. The paper published contributions by leading artists and writers such as Käthe Kollwitz, Anna Seghers, Erich Kästner, Maxim Gorky and Kurt Tucholsky (Theobald Tiger). …

John Heartfield, Hitler, Tool in God's Hand? Plaything in Thyssen's Hand!

This John Heartfield photomontage is called Hitler, Tool in God’s Hand? Plaything in Thyssen‘s Hand!

Heartfield remained loyal to the AIZ in Prague where he fled after escaping from a gang of Nazi thugs by jumping from the balcony of his apartment in Berlin in 1933. In exile in Prague along with many other Communists, Social Democrats and left-wing intellectuals who had fled Germany, he created some of his most impressive and politically astute photo montages. He continued to work for his brother’s Malik Verlag, also forced into exile.

Heartfield’s trip to the Soviet Union in 1931 is not mentioned in the presentation. There is also relatively little information about his half-year stay in the USSR in the ADK online archive and in the exhibition catalog. He lived in Moscow with the writer Sergei Tretyakov, a friend of Brecht and a leading member of the Russian avant garde, who, like many other artists and intellectuals, was not prepared to accept the official Stalinist doctrine of “Socialist Realism” in artistic production. Tretyakov was a victim of the Stalinist purges in 1937. In Odessa, Heartfield helped build the exteriors for Erwin Piscator’s film Revolt of the Fishermen (1934) based on the novel by Seghers. …

In 1938, the Nazis occupied Czechoslovakia and Heartfield began his second exile, in London. He chose flight to the West rather than fleeing east into Stalin’s sphere of influence. This was no accident—he evidently avoided exposing himself to Stalin’s repression. In England … he was involved in various activities organised by German artists in exile, in particular the Free German Cultural Association (Freier Deutscher Kulturbund).

In the summer of 1940, he was interned as an “enemy alien,” but released after seven weeks for health reasons.

After the war, his first attempt to return to Germany was initially delayed for health reasons and then became problematic following the outbreak of the Cold War. …

Even after Heartfield was able to return, he had problems building on his previous successes in the German Democratic Republic. The narrow-minded GDR cultural bureaucracy disparaged his photomontages as “formalistic.” …

Heartfield was able to make some advances in the theatrical field in the GDR, but in a relatively conventional manner. He was unable, however, to recreate his powerful collaboration with Piscator in the 1920s. His admission to the GDR ruling party, the SED, and then to the East German Academy of Arts only took place following the personal intervention of Brecht in 1957.

Heartfield died on April 26, 1968 in East Berlin.

Should the ADK exhibition with its 400 items eventually open to the public, it is well worth visiting. It is due to travel to Zwolle (Netherlands) and London.

The Photography plus Dynamite catalog by Angela Lammert, Rosa von der Schulenburg and Anna Schultz is available from the Academy of the Arts bookshop at a special price of €29.90 (from July €39.90) plus shipping costs. In the foreword, the ADK draws attention to the growing influence of far-right radicalism today.

Ancient Eyptian general Horemheb, online lecture


This 9 April 2020 video by the Dutch National Museum of Antiquities (in Dutch, also in the subtitles, which, however, you can change to English or many other languages with the Settings button), says about itself, translated:

The special reliefs from the grave of General Horemheb are masterpieces in our Egyptian collection from the National Museum of Antiquities. Horemheb served under the famous Pharaoh Tutankhamun and had his tomb built around 1330 BC. Exactly 45 years ago, his grave was rediscovered in the ancient Egyptian burial field near the village of Saqqara.

Every March / April, an RMO team goes to Egypt to conduct research in this Egyptian city of the dead. This year the archaeological investigation is due to circumstances related to the coronavirus unfortunately did not continue. But also from home, there is plenty to discover and tell about the reliefs from Horemheb’s grave. That’s why curator Daniel Soliman tells everything about this special general in a mini-lecture from his home workplace.

Free children’s Axel Scheffler e-book on coronavirus


Free coronavirus book for children

From the Internet site of British artist Axel Scheffler, illustrator of, eg, the children’s book The Gruffalo:

Coronavirus – a book for children

Written by Elizabeth Jenner, Kate Wilson and Nia Roberts

This is a FREE digital information book for primary school-age children to help explain the coronavirus and the measures taken to control it. It answers lots of questions in a child-friendly way, and aims to both inform and reassure.

Published by Nosy Crow and illustrated by Axel, the text had expert input from Professor Graham Medley of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, and also two headteachers and a child psychologist.

You can find out more, download and read the book here.

Axel says:

“I asked myself what I could do as a children’s illustrator to inform, as well as entertain, my readers here and abroad, about the coronavirus. So I was glad when my publisher, Nosy Crow, asked me to illustrate this question-and-answer book. I think it is extremely important for children and families to have access to good and reliable information in this unprecedented crisis, and hope this digital book will reach many children.”

Jewish artists murdered by the nazis, exhibition


This March 2020 video from the Netherlands says about itself, translated:

Since the Noord-Veluws Museum Nunspeet is temporarily closed because of the corona crisis, we give a short impression of the realization of this new, impressive exhibition, which we organize together with Museum Sjoel Elburg, through the video ‘The making of Murdered Art‘.

The exhibition is about Dutch Jewish visual artists, murdered by Adolf Hitler’s nazis.

The video is in Dutch. Subtitles are also in Dutch; but that can be changed by the Options button to English and to many other languages.

Chinese wine cups in Dutch Rijksmuseum


This 3 April 2020 video from Amsterdam in the Netherlands says about itself:

Like to drink in style? Curatorial assistant Denise Campbell shows us this amazing set of twelve Chinese wine cups in a new episode of #Rijksmuseumfromhome. 🏠 Each ‘month cup’ represents the flower of the month. Cheers! 🍷

Ancient ship model in Dutch Rijksmuseum


This 27 March 2020 video from the Netherlands says about itself:

In the third episode of our series #Rijksmuseumfromhome 🏠 our Ship Model Conservator Tirza Mol talks about all the secrets of the William Rex, our biggest ship model on display. And she shows us how she cleans the majestic vessel! ⚓️⛵️

This 2013 video shows how the William Rex was moved to its exhibition hall.

Japanese screens in Dutch Rijksmuseum


This 24 March 2020 video from the Netherlands says about itself:

Our curators are working from home, now that the [Rijks]museum is temporarily closed. 🏠

In the second episode of #Rijksmuseumfromhome our Head of Asian Arts Menno Fitski is shining his light on two painted screens of Mount Fuji made by Yoshida Hiroshi. 🗻 🇯🇵

Painter Jan Steen during coronavirus crisis


This 20 March 2020 video from the Netherlands says about itself:

Now that the [Rijks]museum is closed, our curators are working from home, just like the rest of us. 🏠 But we can’t stop them from sharing their knowledge! In our new series #Rijksmuseumfromhome our curators are shining their lights on our famous works from the comfort of their homes.

Pieter Roelofs, Head of Paintings and Sculpture, passionately tells us about Jan Steen’s The Merry Family. If his son isn’t distracting him that is… 😅