The third link in the Doctor’s Dozen is the Austrian artist and writer, Raoul Hausmann (1886-1971).
Hausmann’s main connection with the previous subject, George Grosz, is that he was also a leader of the Berlin Dada movement. Hausmann’s experimental photographic collages, sound poetry and institutional critiques would have a profound influence on the European Avant-Garde in the aftermath of the First World War.
As a young man, Hausmann was interested in the goals of the emerging Expressionist movement in Germany. In 1917 he was introduced to Dadaist thinking and ideas by contemporary literature such as the magazine ‘Cabaret Voltaire’. From 1918 the first Dadaist soirées, in which Hausmann and Grosz participated, took place and Hausmann went on to develop his characteristic photomontage process and printed his first ‘poster poems’ and phonetic poems.
Hausmann’s extramarital romance with the renowned Dada artist Hannah Höch resulted in an explosive artistic future. It was during their location to the Baltic Sea that the idea of photomontage inspired the artists which he used to vent out his Dadaist claims.
The most well known work by Hausmann, ‘Mechanical Head’ [above] is the only extant assemblage. The notion of head is driven by the fact that everything rests within the mind and every outcome is a result of what lies within. However, the artist discards this notion and tries to pull out the reverse aspect by simply pointing out that whatever sticks to the head defines the thought process and he explains this literally by sticking the materials onto the head. It is the materiality or objectivity of the world that defines the thoughts rather than the thoughts residing within the head.
The photomontage became the technique most associated with Berlin Dada, used extensively by Hausmann and Grosz and others, and would prove a crucial influence on the German artist Kurt Schwitters.
Schwitters became a close friend of Hausmann and so he is the next subject for the Doctor’s Dozen. Stay tuned!
In the second installment of the Doctor’s Dozen on the Serendipitous Compendium I discuss with John the work of the German Expressionist artist, George Grosz (1893-1959).
Apart from sharing the same Christian name with Bellows who featured in the previous broadcast, Grosz was also an artist who highlighted horrors of war in his art. For Grosz, the teeming city was an apocalyptic place where human problems were concentrated into a confined space governed by individual and collective lunacy.
George Grosz achieved early recognition for his biting portrayals of Weimar-era Berlin, satirising the culture’s hypocrisy, military platitudes and wealthy businessmen, as in ‘Berlin Street’ (1931) from the Metropolitan’s collection [see below]. As the Met’s caption states: ‘Grosz depicts several menacing denizens of Berlin against the backdrop of the modern metropolis, a hellish place animated by greed, cruelty, and ghoulish lust. A beggar, one of the two million crippled World War I veterans who roamed the streets of Berlin, sits on the lower left and holds up his hat to a woman, whose garish attire and crude make-up suggest that she is most likely a prostitute’.
As the artist stated, “The devil knows why it should be so, but once you look more closely, people and things begin to look threadbare, ugly and often pointlessly ambiguous”. Grosz loathed what he described as “the masses” – and trusted to his own “observation, which always confirmed that the human masses are a pitiful mob, an easily influenced herd of cattle that like nothing better than to choose their own butchers”. He targeted not only “the pillars of society” – politicians, lawyers, military and ecclesiastical leaders – but the bourgeoisie in general. He saw the entire class as a decadent mire which nurtured the power of the ambitious.
In 1917 Grosz founded the Berlin wing of the Dada movement. Dada was the artistic expression of the critique of the political and social state of affairs – the Dadaists instinctive mission was to smash the Germans’ cultural identity. Responses to the new art form, such as the Dada Show in 1920 in which Grosz participated, ranged from shock to ‘sheer nonsense’. From the ceiling of the gallery, a stuffed soldier dressed in field grey hung suspended, wearing officer’s epaulettes and with a pig mask under his cap.
Grosz’s drawings were tartly critical of society and in 1921 he was prosecuted for defamation of the army; in 1924 for offences against public morality; and in 1928 for blasphemy. Hated by the Nazis, 285 of Grosz’s works were removed from German collections – one place he was very well represented was in the 1937 show of Degenerative Art.
George Grosz left Berlin in 1932 to settle in New York, and in 1938 he was stripped of his German citizenship and became an American citizen. In the American years, the artist retreated somewhat from his former positions and his analyses took on a generalised apocalyptic tone. Becoming resigned to it, he eventually turned to landscape painting. He returned to the rubble of Berlin to live in 1959, but just 5 weeks later he was found dead after a night out drinking.
One of the best known styles associated with the Dada movement is the technique of collage or montage, which originated in Cubism and was used by a number of German artists, including the Austrian Raoul Hausmann. Connected to Grosz in this series by being, like Grosz, one of the key figures in Berlin Dada, Hausmann’s experimental photographic collages, sound poetry and institutional critiques would have a profound influence on the European Avant- Garde in the aftermath of the First World War.
His art remains fresh and astonishingly powerful today, and it is to the work of this extraordinary artist and writer that I will be discussing the third installment of the Doctor’s Dozen.
The Serendipitous Compendium is back for a second season and I am delighted to be involved in a segment called The Doctor’s Dozen. Over forthcoming weeks, I’ll be introducing listeners to various artists – thirteen in all – and linking them together into an imaginary art historical circle. Inspired by the context in which the artworks were made, I’ll be discussing subjects as diverse as photomontage, German satire, Merz collage, Pop, Bloomsbury and Camden Town. Beginning with an artist who returned time and time again to the beautiful Maine coast, we’ll travel back and forwards in time and across continents in the pursuit of the stories behind extraordinary art and the people who produced it.
So where do we start?
When I last visited John, your host of the Serendipitous Compendium, we spent a happy day the Portland Museum of Art, and we both found ourselves drawn to one particular work. Here’s a photo I took of the painting at the time.
The title is Matinicus and it was painted by George Bellows (1882-1925) in 1916. I was surprised to see such a bright and joyful work by an artist I had long associated with gritty images of urban life in New York. As the museum label states, here Bellows captured a sense of the island’s bustling waterfront through the jumble of fishing shacks, lobstertraps and boats. The scene is animated through the artist’s thickly textured brushwork and lurid, non-naturalistic colours exemplified by the yellow cow on the left.
Bellows was a student of Robert Henri who was a leading figure in the Ashcan School of American Realism, and he came to notice in 1908 when he and other pupils organised an exhibition of urban studies.
His New York scenes depicted the crudity and chaos of working class people and neighbourhoods and sometimes satirised the upper classes.
Like Henri, Bellows started to summer in Maine, painting seascapes on Monhegan and Matincus islands.
But it was Bellows’ paintings portraying amateur boxing matches that were his signature pieces.
Bellows was politically active and associated with what was known as the Lyrical Left. He publicly supported US intervention in WWI and created a series of works graphically depicting the atrocities committed by Germany.
The idea of an American artist using his work to bring attention to the events of the war, made me think of a German artist whose art served a similar purpose. His name is George Grosz, and he’s the next artist I’ll be discussing next in the second part of the Doctor’s Dozen.