In the 1910s, German artist and feminist Hannah Höch was the lone woman among Berlin’s avant-garde Dada movement, the raucous group responsible for naming a men’s urinal Fountain and turning it into one of the most influential artworks of the last century. Though she hung out with art stars like Piet Mondrian, they never quite saw her as an equal–artist Hans Richter once smugly dismissed her as “the girl who procured sandwiches, beer, and coffee, on a limited budget.”
Well, Hans, flash-forward a century and this sandwich-procurer’s Wikipedia bio is longer than yours, and her radical legacy is being honored in a major new exhibition at London’s Whitechapel Gallery. It showcases over 100 works from the 1910s until her death at age 88 in the 1970s.
Höch has been called art’s first punk–her strikingly contemporary-looking photomontage style wouldn’t seem out of place on rock album covers. “Höch’s work continues to inspire people,” exhibition co-curator Daniel Herrmann tells Co.Design. “She is one of the most influential artists in the reconfiguration of mass media images and her work has never seemed more relevant. More than anything, her work after 1945 seems to ring a chord with contemporary artists. Its compositional skill and innovative attention to detail make it look incredibly fresh today.”
Hans Richter wasn’t the only one who denigrated Höch: the Nazis shut down a planned 1932 retrospective of her photomontage, calling it “degenerate art.” She eventually left Berlin for a suburb, where she hid out during WWII.
Höch was also a staunch feminist and an early supporter of reproductive rights, often marginalized for her manly dress and bisexuality. In her piece From an Ethnographic Museum, naked breasts paired with mustachioed tribal masks lambasted traditional sex roles in the Republic’s repressive social climate.
Way ahead of her time, history has taken a while to catch up to her, but this exhibition helps destroy anything that’s left of the “sandwich-procurer” reputation, securing her place in the pantheon of major 20th-century artists.
Hannah Höch is on view at the Whitechapel Gallery in London until March 23rd.