She was born Johanne Höch in Gotha, Germany. From 1912 to 1914 she studied at the College of Arts and Crafts in Berlin under the guidance of Harold Bergen. She studied glass design and graphic arts, rather than fine arts, to please her father. She worked for the Red Cross in 1914, at the start of World War I. In 1915 she entered the graph class of the National Institute of the Museum of Arts and Crafts. Also in 1915, Höch began an influential friendship with Raoul Hausmann, a member of the Berlin Dada movement. Höch's involvement with the Berlin Dadists began in earnest in 1919. After her schooling, she worked in the handicrafts department for Ullstein Verlang. The influence of this early work and training can clearly be seen in her later work involving references to dress patterns and textiles. From 1926 to 1929 she lived and worked in the Netherlands. Höch made more influential friendships over the years, with Kurt Schwitters and Piet Mondrian among others. Hausmann, along with Höch, was one of the first pioneers of the artform that would come to be known as photomontage.
Höch's sexuality and relationship with Hausmann
Höch's personal relationship with Hausmann grew from friendship to romance over time. While this was the first crucial relationship to have an influence on Höch's artistic work, she often reflected upon her relationships in such pieces as Love (1926). After her involvement with Hausmann, she was sexually involved with women and had a relationship from 1926 to 1929 with the Dutch writer and linguist Til Brugman. Hausmann was married to another woman during their involvement, and refused to marry Höch. She supported women's right to reproductive control; she had two abortions during her involvement with Hausmann. Hausmann was physically abusive. Höch and Hausmann separated in 1922, at which point Höch was well on her way to becoming an artist in her own right, independent of her involvement with Hausmann. Incidentally, it was during Höch's relationship with Hausmann that both artists began to work more thoroughly with collage, extending the artform firstly applied by cubistic painters. There is evidence that she collaborated with Hausmann, although she was considered[who?] his lover and not his equal.
While the Dadaists "paid lip service to women's emancipation" they were clearly reluctant to include a woman among their ranks. Hans Richter described Höch's contribution to the Dada movement as the "sandwiches, beer and coffee she managed somehow to conjure up despite the shortage of money." Raoul Hausmann even suggested that Höch get a job to support him financially. Höch was the lone woman among the Berlin Dada group, although Sophie Täuber, Beatrice Wood, and Baroness Else von Freytag-Loringhoven were also important (if overlooked) Dada figures. She references the hypocrisy of the Berlin Dada group and German society as a whole in her photomontage, Da-Dandy.
Her work at Verlang put her in a position where she was working with magazines targeted to women, making her acutely aware of the difference between women in media and reality. Marriage did not escape her criticism—she depicted brides as mannequins and children, reflecting the idea that women are not seen as complete people and have little control over their lives. Höch saw herself as part of the women's movement in the 1920s, as shown in her depiction of herself in Schnitt mit dem Kuchenmesser Dada Durch die Letzte Weimarer Bierbauchkulturepoche Deutschlands (1919–20). Her pieces also commonly combine male and female into one being. During the era of the Weimar Republic, "mannish women were both celebrated and castigated for breaking down traditional gender roles." Her androgynous characters may also have been related to her bisexuality, and attraction to masculinity in women. That is, having the shape of woman (even if altered in Höch's work) with the society embraced attitude and outlook of stereo-typed masculinity.
Höch spent the years of the Third Reich in Germany, trying to remain quiet and in the background. She married the much-younger businessman and pianist Kurt Matthies in 1938 and divorced him in 1944.Though her work was not acclaimed after the war as it had been before the rise of the Third Reich, she continued to produce her photomontages and exhibit them internationally until her death in 1978, in Berlin.
Höch was a pioneer of the artform that became known as photomontage. Many of her pieces point out the faults of beauty culture, comparing reality to depictions of the 'neue frau' in magazines. Her works from 1926 to 1935 often depicted same sex couples, and women were once again a central theme in her work from 1963 to 1973. Höch also made strong statements on racial discrimination. Her most famous piece is Schnitt mit dem Kuchenmesser Dada Durch die Letzte Weimarer Bierbauchkulturepoche Deutschlands ("Cut with the Dada Kitchen Knife through the Last Weimar Beer-Belly Cultural Epoch in Germany"), a critique on Weimar Germany in 1919. This piece combines images from newspapers of the time re-created to make a new statement about life and art in the Dada movement.
- Lavin, Maud. Cut With the Kitchen Knife: The Weimar Photomontages of Hannah Hoch. New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press, 1993.
- Lavin, Maud. "The Mess of History or the Unclean Hannah Höch". In: Catherine de Zegher (ed.), Inside the Visible. The Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston & MIT Press, 1996.
- Meskimmon, Marsha. We Weren't Modern Enough: Women Artists and the Limits of German Modernism. Berkeley, California: University of California Press, 1999.
- Meskimmon, Marsha & Shearer West, ed. Visions of the 'Neue Frau': Women and the Visual Arts in Weimar Germany. Hants, England: Scolar Press, 1995.
- Noun, Louise R. Three Berlin Artists of the Weimar Era: Hannah Höch, Käthe Kollwitz and Jeanne Mammen. Des Moines, Iowa: Des Moines Art Center, 1994.
- Ohff, Heinz. Hannah Höch. Berlin: Deutsche Gesellschaft für Bildende Kunst, 1968.
- Sante, Luc. "Dada's Girl: Hannah Höch Thumbs Her Nose at Art." Slate. 10 April, 1997.