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ART

Dada's Big Mama

Hannah Hoch was the archetypal New Woman among the male-dominated Berlin crowd. But as a new exhibition reveals, there was a quieter, traditional, feminine side to her work.

June 22, 1997|Leah Ollman | Leah Ollman is a frequent contributor to Calendar

"My gut feeling is that these are works about the display of 'the other' in Germany at a time when there was a lot of propaganda about Germany's right to have colonies," Makela says. "It would be foolish to ascribe to Hoch a post-colonial consciousness, but she was a shrewd observer and commentator on stereotypes that were propagated in mass culture."

Irony and allusion in the arts suffered a mortal blow when the Nazis assumed power in 1933, and Hoch, like many others, was considered suspect. Though not a party member, she was a communist sympathizer and was thus blacklisted as a "Cultural Bolshevist." Most of her colleagues and friends, including Kurt Schwitters and Hans and Sophie Tauber Arp, left Germany, ushering in what Hoch called her "great loneliness." A major show of her work scheduled to appear at the Dessau Bauhaus was canceled when the famed school itself was shut down, and Hoch, who had enjoyed great acclaim in the late '20s and early '30s, didn't exhibit again until 1945. "The arts," she later wrote of the period, "vegetated like a macabre wasteland."

*

Retreating into inner exile, Hoch moved to a northern suburb of Berlin just after the war broke out. She lived there until her death in 1978, painting as she had done since the 1910s and leaning more toward abstraction and surrealism in her montages. When color reproduction became widespread in the 1950s, her work took on a new, slightly garish intensity as she excised images for their textures and patterns, reworking them into designs that relate to the gestural, abstract painting of the time.

With the resurgence of interest in Dada in the 1960s, Hoch enjoyed a second wave of attention that lasted through the 1970s, leading to several German-language publications and a European retrospective. Up until now, however, Hoch has had little exposure in this country.

We're late to recognize her importance, Makela says, as "one of the greatest collagists of the 20th century. On aesthetic grounds, she's been neglected."

*

"The Photomontages of Hannah Hoch," Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 5905 Wilshire Blvd. Next Sunday through Sept. 14. Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays, noon to 8 p.m.; Fridays, noon to 9 p.m.; Saturdays and Sundays, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Closed Wednesdays. Adults, $6; senior citizens 62 and older and students with ID, $4; children 6-17, $1. (213) 857-6000.

* The museum will hold a panel discussion on "Dada and the New Woman," Sept. 13, 1 p.m.

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