Background 1920s 1980s Present Day

George Grosz and John Heartfield 1919


There will always be an argument over who invented the word "photomontage". What is not at issue is that it was one of the members of the Berlin Dada group: the debate is about which one. This is hardly surprising since much of the early montage work was the result of collaboration, and many early works are credited to more than one artist. So the official (and diplomatic) version is that the five exponents of Dada montage, John Heartfield, Hannah Höch, Johannes Baader, Raoul Hausmann, and George Grosz all agreed that their new art form required a new name (to distinguish it from the painterly collage of the Cubists.)


Dada was always about kicking out against the status quo. After all, the status quo had just produced the most devastating war in European history, and the artists, who had mostly spent the war years in the safety of neutral Switzerland, returned to Germany desperate to find ways of conveying the madness of the age. One early Dada exhibition was held in a men's public toilet, and visitors were given an axe to destroy the exhibits: it was never a movement much concerned with commercialism or posterity!


"Montage" in German means "fitting" or "assembly line" and "monteur" means "mechanic" or "engineer". John Heartfield, the best known practitioner of montage who used to work in overalls, came to be known as Monteur Heartfield, in recognition of his attitude to the world of art. Hannah Höch, who uniquely continued to produce montages throughout her long and varied life, said: Umbo's montage of Christian Schad"Our whole purpose was to integrate objects from the world of machines and industry into the world of art."


Many of the earliest Dada montages were used as covers and illustrations for magazines and manifestos of the movement. Their style was usually wildly anarchic, utilising many elements, some of which inevitably included photos of the Dada artists, juxtaposed with much apparently random newspaper text. From these initial experiments, the major figures in Dada photomontage emerged with vastly different styles and agendas.


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Dada Artists

 

 

Hannah Höch

Hannah Höch

 

 

John Heartfield

John Heartfield

 

 

Raoul Hausmann

Raoul Hausmann

 

 

Kurt Schwitters

Kurt Schwitters