Surreal Collage: Hannah Hoch At Whitechapel Gallery

Dadaism was a movement after the First World War that did away with all representational preconceptions about art, paving the way for surrealism and post-modernism as well as having a massive influence on the world of modern art today. For this reason, most Dadaist exhibitions are often raved about by academics and critics, but they can often feel impenetrable to many visitors — one case in point was last year’s Schwitters exhibition at Tate Britain.

Hannah Höch was a key artist in the Dadaist movement who has largely been overlooked by the major galleries, which this exhibition seeks to rectify with a retrospective featuring over 100 works. The show does start off with some abstract works akin to the style of Schwitters, before segueing into the portrait collages that Höch is most well known for.

This makes her work more accessible than some of her fellow Dadaists but the exhibition doesn’t provide enough information to allow us to recognise the significance of her work. In one collage, two Weimar Republic politicians are pictured in bathing suits surrounded by hand-drawn insects and plants, thus transforming then into non-threatening individuals. Other adjacent collages are equally playful and satirical but as no context is provided by the labels, the true depth of the work won’t be realised by many visitors who don’t have a good level of knowledge of inter-war Germany.

The exhibition then takes on a feminist and surrealist bent as oversized heads are placed on small bodies and a smiling child’s face rests atop two stumpy appendages. By also integrating artefacts from an ethnographic museum these works highlight and challenge the notions of what it meant to be a woman, an ethnic minority and a non-conformist in the eyes of the media and the general public during the time.

The exhibition does a great job of raising our awareness and recognition of Hannah Höch’s work and insightful collages. But her works are often very similar and the exhibition does feel very repetitive by the end.

Hannah Hoch is on at Whitechapel Gallery, 77-82 Whitechapel High Street, E1 7QX until 23 March. Tickets are £9.95, concessions available.

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Tabish Khan 2

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  • Jake

    You have stated some valid points however do you feel as if it is necessary to include any more information about the work? I believe the work speaks for itself once you understand the fundamentals of what it is about. I respect although disagree with your opinion on the exhibition being repetitive. I am a collage artist myself, when you can understand and appreciate the processes and subtle differences in each collage there is always something interesting and unique about each piece. I believe the exhibition worked very well as a whole and it successfully informed me about the great skill of an Artist I did not know much about.

    • Tabish Khan

      Glad you liked it but I still think more could have been done to make Hoch’s work accessible. I often worry that many exhibitions are targeted at the academia of the art world and so artists and art critics can easily grasp it but it makes it impenetrable to members of the public – hopefully this isn’t the case here.

      As for the repetition, I do think a less is more approach could have worked here and a tighter showcase of her works would have had more impact.

      Still, it’s always good to hear a different opinion and I’m in the minority here as most other reviews I’ve read are largely positive.