Der Traum seinen Lebens (The Dream of His Life)

Hannah Höch German

Not on view

Hannah Höch pioneered the art of photomontage, a genre that involves layering and juxtaposing photographs, scraps of paper, and newsprint to create a new composition. Assembling fragments of images from snippets of popular magazines and fashion journals, the artist enacted a biting social critique of a fragmented world in the wake of World War I. Höch’s reliance on mass-produced materials was a direct repudiation of more traditional art forms, such as painting, that required academic training. This "anti-art" statement brought her into the orbit of the Berlin Dada group, a branch of the transnational movement that was active from 1917 to 1923; Höch was its sole female member.

Trained as an artist, Höch attended the School of Applied Art in Berlin from 1912 to 1920, where she learned glass design, painting, graphic design, and printmaking, though her studies were interrupted by the outbreak of World War I. Beginning in 1916, she worked part-time at the Ullstein Verlag, a magazine publisher, where she wrote articles on and designed templates for embroidery and knitting. This work not only introduced her to pattern-making and abstract ornamentation, but also to a world of images in the pages of mass media publications, which exploded in circulation during the Weimar Republic.

Höch’s incisive photomontages, produced in Berlin beginning in the mid-1910s, satirized and critiqued German culture, especially the political bankruptcy of the ruling class and the expected role of women in society. While the artist’s Dada photomontages directly mocked the bitter failings of the Weimar Republic and its corrupt political figures, her post-Dada works, such as this one, focused instead on the shifting gender roles and standards of beauty in 1920s Germany. The "New Woman" emerged during this time as a symbol of modernity and feminist ideal. Pushing against societal expectations as to their ambitions, behavior, and outward presentation, "new women" were independent, educated, sexually adventurous, androgynously dressed, and participated in areas of society then regarded as the typical domains of men.

Höch, herself a New Woman, sarcastically mocks a conventional female gender role—as well as male expectations of beauty—in Der Traum seinen Lebens (The Dream of His Life), which incorporates several hand-tinted photographs of the same bride, posed coquettishly in a wedding dress and elaborate veil. These images, bordered by strips of paper printed to resemble picture frames, are pasted on top of a colorfully marbleized sheet. This relatively sparse composition, with its interlocking frames and decorative background, reflects Höch’s training in pattern-making, while also poking fun at this practice as typically feminine.

Der Traum seinen Lebens (The Dream of His Life), Hannah Höch (German, Gotha 1889–1978 Berlin), Cut and pasted hand-colored photographs and cut and pasted printed paper and watercolor on paper

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