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.

Guns, not butter in Germany


John Heartfield photomontage on guns instead of butter in nazi Germany

Comment from Madame Pickwick Art Blog on this ‘guns or butter’ picture, with as its caption title ‘Hurrah, the butter is gone!’:

This work is Heartfield’s most famous, it is the climax of the artist’s mastery of the genre. A German family is depicted eating various parts of a bicycle, with Hitler’s portrait and swastika wallpaper in the background. The quote is from Hermann Göring, and it reads: “Iron has always made a nation strong, butter and lard have only made the people fat”. In his work, Heartfield parodied the style of Nazi propaganda posters to criticize the regime. Heartfield’s work was of course a type of propaganda in itself, but his work expressed the discontent of the opposition in Germany.

Apparently, the present British government, buying 600 new tanks, has not learned from Heartfield.

Neither, it seems, has the government of Heartfield’s country of birth, Germany.

By Christoph Dreier in Germany:

German government discusses massive increase in military spending

6 September 2014

At the NATO summit in Wales, the United States and Great Britain pressured member states to fulfill the 2006 agreement to increase military spending across the alliance to at least two percent of gross domestic product (GDP). So far just five of the 28 NATO countries—the United States, France, Great Britain, Greece and Estonia—adhere to the target.

In Germany, which spends around 1.4 percent of GDP on its military budget, the summit has led to immediate demands for massive rearmament.

“If Europe wants to keep its freedom, it is not possible without additional efforts,” declared the Christian Democrat (CDU) foreign policy expert Karl-Georg Wellmann, in order to combat what he called the “threat from Moscow.”

CDU defense politician Henning Otte also supported a military upgrade. “We must adapt our defense preparedness to the new threat. That will not be possible without an increase in the defense budget,” he said. “The assumption that the Bundeswehr (German army) can do without armor or heavy equipment in future is wrong … Both will cost money, but there is no security without expenditure,” the CDU deputy declared.

“The time of the peace dividend is over,” proclaimed the foreign and security policy spokesman for the Christian Social Union (CSU) in the Bundestag, Florian Hahn. Just a few weeks ago CSU leader Horst Seehofer had pleaded in the news magazine Der Spiegel for an increase in military spending. “We cannot discuss progressive tax changes and then say there is not enough money for the Bundeswehr to fulfill its responsibilities,” he said.

The budget increase required by NATO and now being discussed in the German government, would be the biggest increase in spending for the Bundeswehr since the unification of Germany 25 years ago. It would mean that Germany, which currently stands at number seven of the countries with the highest military expenditure, would shift into fifth place ahead of France and Great Britain, and become the biggest military power in the EU.

In 2013, the military budget was already increased as part of the reform of the Bundeswehr. In the 2013 federal budget, overall spending was reduced by 3.1 percent to 302 billion euros, but the defense budget rose 4.4 percent to 33.3 billion. Only the Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs has a larger budget. This remains the case in 2014, when defense spending will total 32.4 billion euros. That is more than ten percent of all public expenditure.

In 2013, however, this total only represented about 1.4 percent of GDP. An increase to the required target of two percent would mean an additional expenditure of over 14 billion euros.

This sum corresponds almost exactly to the state spending in 2013 on Germany’s 4.4 million recipients of unemployment benefits (without counting administrative costs). Major cuts in social spending to pay for a beefed up military amount to a social declaration of war on the working class.

However, even the NATO requirement is not enough for the warmongers in Berlin and in the media. The long-time US correspondent for Der Spiegel Gregor Peter Schmitz recently demanded that Germany and Europe compensate for the failures of the ‘lame duck’ from Washington and take over the main responsibility in NATO.

If one takes Schmitz’ claims seriously then, based on the 3.8 percent of GDP spent by the United States on its military, Germany would have to spend an extra 57 billion euros. If Germany sought to spend as much money as the United States for arms (in real terms) it would have to raise more than 400 billion euros—an unimaginable sum for the current federal budget.

There is no question that such armament hikes can only be financed by violent social attacks on the working class. Historically in Germany, such hikes in military spending have always been associated with sharp cuts in social spending and repression against the workers. This process found its most extreme expression in the Nazi regime.

The federal government is aware that such increases in the military budget will inevitably be met with massive popular resistance. Following two world wars, the rejection of militarism is deeply rooted in the German working class.

This is why some government representatives from the social democratic SPD and the CDU have been initially more cautious in raising demands.

Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble (CDU) reportedly said during a conference that there would be no cuts made in the defense budget “in the near future.” At the same time, any increase in military spending, he continued, was “not a wise policy.”

The Chairman of the Defence Committee, Hans-Peter Bartels (SPD), proposed using defense budget funds more effectively and distributing them “intelligently.”

Such statements cannot hide the fact that the massive military buildup is the logical consequence of the foreign policy of the government and was planned long ago. They are merely aimed at disguising the process from the population.

At the beginning of the year, Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen, announced the end of German military restraint. Since then, Germany has pursued an aggressive policy of military confrontation towards Russia and in the Middle East.

Just on Thursday, the Defense Department announced it was transferring more troops to Poland. The German contingent in the Szczecin headquarters of the Multinational Corps Northeast is to be doubled.

At the NATO summit, US Secretary of State John Kerry announced the setting up of a “core” coalition for military intervention in Iraq, which is also to include Germany.

Kerry’s ‘core’ coalition also includes the government of Turkey, which played a big role in helping ISIS to start its bloodbaths in Syria and Iraq.

According to Dutch NOS TV, none of the governments of Turkey, the UAE, Jordan and Saudi Arabia are keen to really oppose ISIS.

It has now become a matter of course. Whenever a new offensive for war commences, Germany’s mainstream media reacts at once. Journalists with close ties to German and American government circles immediately ratchet up their propaganda. This was once again the case on September 4. The propagandists for war switched gears at the start of the NATO summit in Wales, which is focused on the intensified militarization of Europe and direct preparations for war against Russia: here.

Photomontage from John Heartfield to the Iraq war


This 4 May 2012 video from London, England says about itself:

“Iraq: how, where, for whom?” – Kennard-Phillips and Hanaa Malallah

The Mosaic Rooms, 226 Cromwell Road SW5 0SW
19 April – 12 May 2012
Tues – Sat 11-6pm

What does War achieve and what is achieved by re-presenting acts of violence as images?

“Iraq: how, where, for whom?” generates a series of issues not only about the technique of montage but also whether creating images of atrocities committed against people through war achieves anything, socially or politically, or whether images saturated with an artistic aesthetic – the act of arranging, layering and placing (textures, colours, shapes) – risks overwhelming the initial intention of dissent.

Peter Kennard is well known in the UK as a leading exponent of ‘photomontage’ in the Heartfield tradition. His work spans almost half a century producing images for CND and political campaigns against war and social injustice. The iconic image of his “Haywain with Cruise Missiles” critique is as familiar to people as Constable’s painting of an idyllic England. In recent years he teamed up with Cat Phillips to produce a body of collaborative photomontage works which rage against [their] country’s culture of perpetrating aggressive acts of war – particularly against Iraq. In this exhibition they rest alongside Hanaa Malallah’s orchestrated debris gleaned from her country’s experience (Iraq) as a victim to these barbaric and illegal acts. This empathetic combination from both sides has resulted in an exhibition of works which should be seen.

Hannah Malallah is one of Iraq’s leading contemporary artists. Peter Kennard is a senior lecturer at the Royal College of Art.

From daily The Morning Star in Britain:

John Heartfield and Hanna’ Malallah & kennard phillipps

Tate Modern, London SE1, The Mosaic Rooms, London SW5

Friday 04 May 2012

Since the late 19th-century invention of cheap reprographic printing processes, artists have grappled with the dilemma of making their works relevant to a public already inundated with sophisticated, mostly photographic, mass-media imagery.

In the aftermath of WWI, most artists still disdained or competed with photography. But the communist artist John Heartfield embraced it, so pioneering photomontage in Germany. Committing his talent to the political struggle he understood that photographic imagery and cinema were popular with the masses because they expressed the complexities of modernity in a visually accessible way.

Using satire, humour and visual wit he appropriated and then subverted the mass media’s processes and forms in order to expose the reactionary obfuscations and lies of its messages.

Heartfield amazed his public by juxtaposing separate realities, manipulating scales and using trick photographic techniques such as double exposure and X-ray and added text to convey precise meanings as succinctly as poetry.

By bringing together separate realities he created new ones which revealed the truth.

John Heartfield, This is the salvation that they bring

The ironically captioned This Is The Salvation That They Bring from 1938, protesting at nazi aerial bombings in Spain, transmutes the skeletal fingers of an X-rayed hand into tail smoke from war planes, beneath which lie ruined buildings and murdered children.

Some such as The Spirit Of Geneva (1932), in which the dove of peace is sliced dead by a bayonet, have become iconic. First produced in protest at the shooting of demonstrating workers in Geneva, home of the League of Nations, he reused the motif in East Germany under the slogan Never Again in 1960 and with a poem for peace in 1967.

Rejecting the bourgeois notion of art as a unique commodity, Heartfield’s images were widely dispersed in posters, book jackets, pamphlets and magazines, using mass printing technology.

Probably his most famous works are those for the communist magazine AIZ – the Workers Illustrated Paper – for which he produced montages, sometimes weekly, between 1930 and 1938. A number of them were also flyposted as posters.

Art world legend relates that as a political refugee in Britain during WWII, Heartfield offered his work to the Tate Gallery but they rejected it saying it was not art. Although long acknowledged as a giant of 20h-century art by graphic designers, he is still not accorded this status by the dominant art history narrative.

It is a delight that an entire room of his work is currently on loan to Tate Modern from a private collection. Because this is a free “display” rather than a paying exhibition it has not been hyped by the media and it’s really not to be missed.

In the 1960s the discovery of photomontage by Heartfield and the Soviet Constructivists enabled Peter Kennard to find his voice as a politically committed socialist artist. Photomontages such as his poster showing a cruise missile breaking against the CND logo are well known on the left.

Since 2003 he has collaborated with Cat Phillipps and they now work as a collective under the name kennardphillipps. Like Heartfield, they engage directly with capitalist mass media to subvert its pernicious deceptions.

The series The War You Don’t See uses the same hand-crafted photomontage technique as Heartfield. In some the very “crudity” of this approach – one now unfamiliar to younger artists used to slick digital image manipulation – adds visual punch to the message and implies a critical attitude to expensive electronic media.

Yet their video and digitally printed protest banner shows that they do embrace electronic processes. They use them but refute their tyranny. Their large wall pieces marry digital printing processes with the handcrafted to create tactile, fragile surfaces made from glued layers of newspapers, overprinted and painted.

From afar, George Bush A Portrait (2007) shows a photograph of the president. But seen close-to we discover that this image is digitally printed onto a surface made up of faded sheets of the Houston Chronicle with its inane capitalist content.

Parts of this are ripped to reveal the Arabic newspaper beneath, its coloured images exposing the savagery, torture and destruction which the US inflicted on Iraq and its people.

The Iraqi artist Hanaa´ Malallah’s works are born of direct experience of the war.

Hanaa' Malallah, USA Heritage Flag

This work by Hanaa´ Malallah refers to the Iraqi journalist who threw shoes at George W Bush.

Her aesthetically seductive wall hangings and sculptures reveal their message subtly. Small pieces of thin, frayed canvas are scorched, burned and torn, so evoking the destruction, insecurity and fear which war brings.

But they are then patiently stitched, stuffed, interwoven with string and pasted together so asserting the resilience, tenacity and will of her people to survive and rebuild.

Malallah and kennardphillipps’s collaborative exhibition creates a powerful indictment of the greed, hypocrisy and lies with which western politicians, multinationals and corporate media colluded in the occupation and destruction of Iraq. Iraq: How, Where, For Whom? runs until June 8, free. Opening times: (020) 7370-9990. John Heartfield runs at Tate Modern until the end of December 2012, free. Opening times: (020) 7887-8000.

London’s Tate Modern shows photomontages of John Heartfield: here.

Anti war art from Dadaism to today


This video says about itself:

The story of John Heartfield, the father of photomontage and a key figure in the Dada movement. Using archive material and reconstructions, this program reflects on the significant changes in East Germany from the start of Heartfield’s career in 1916 to the present day.

From British daily The Morning Star:

The heart of the matter

(Monday 25 June 2007)

EXHIBITION: Blairaq
Leonard Street Gallery, London EC2A

LEGACY: See some brilliant anti-war photomontages at Blairaq.

MICHAL BONCZA uncovers some astounding montages by anti-war artists from the first world war to today.

THE old Dadaist post-first world war rage at the waste of capitalism and its wars rarely had, since the days of the unsurpassed antifascist propagandist John Heartfield and practitioners of his comprehensive political vision, sense of purpose and visual skill.

Communists George Grosz, feminist Hannah Höch [and] Heartfield – who changed his name from Helmut Herzfeld as a deliberate protest when he heard the anti-British German slogan “God punish England” – were inspired by images collaged together in the trenches by soldiers trying to outsmart censorship to denounce the horrors that surrounded them.

With the rise of fascism, political photomontage was elevated to an art form in its own right.

As a medium, it offered limitless possibilities for an instant visual response, which could be both eloquently didactic and aesthetically highly accomplished.

The legendary Arbeiter-Illustrierte Zeitung – Workers Illustrated Newspaper – covers are the best testimony to this as its circulation reached 180,000 by 1924.

A classical image is Heartfield’s powerfully ironic Millions Stand Behind Me (The Real Meaning of Hitler’s Salute), showing the nazi leader as a puppet financed by big capital.

Equally powerful and enduring is The Meaning of Geneva, Where Capital Lives, There Peace Cannot Live! with a listless dove staked on a bayonet.

Produced as a protest against the killing of 15 workers during a demonstration in Geneva, which was the home of that forerunner of the UN, the League of Nations, it features the darkened nazi flag flying with the League of Nations HQ looming sinisterly in the background.

In the 1970s and ’80s, Peter Kennard continued and developed this tradition by creating defining and memorable images for the anti-nuclear protest movement in Britain lead by the CND.

Constable‘s Haywain, converted to carry a battery of cruise missiles, is the most enduring.

His work prompted Ken Livingstone to say: “In hitting at the heart of the matter, Kennard gives us hope.”

The rage of the two million who filled central London in 2003 to protest against the treacherous attack on Iraq is fittingly evoked in Kennard’s contribution to Santa’s Ghetto 2006, the seasonal nonconformist showpiece.

The smug Tony Blair is savaged in a brilliant photomontage as he vaingloriously snaps himself on a mobile phone camera surrounded by the horrific fires of the Iraq war. Not often is an image produced more worthy of the proverbial thousand words.

Although present in a centrally placed assemblage, the most recent work differs significantly from it pictorially and in size.

Made to resemble multilayered billboard displays that have been scraped at, revealing images hidden by the top layers, it requires attentive scanning of detail.

Some are broad canvases, others meticulous montages of pages from British and US newspaper coverage of this newest of imperial adventures.

Cat Picton-Phillips, who collaborated on the project, says: “It may be difficult in 2007 to outrage, but it’s simple to be subversive.”

True. But the broad canvases, by choosing a more complex communication, lose perhaps some of the succinct bite of old.

Not to be regretted though, as the Heartfield, Grosz and Kennard mantle of urgent political subversion could well be still safe inside the spray cans of the Kennard admirer Banksy and his photomontage based “stencilism.”

Shows until July 12 at the Leonard Street Gallery, 73A Leonard Street, London EC2A 4QS.

Peter Kennard interview on this exhibition: here.

Hannah Höch: here.

Photomontages by Theodore Harris: here.

Resolution on war and socialist unity at the 1907 Stuttgart conference in Germany: here.

Dadaist Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven (1874-1927): here.

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