CURATOR'S RESPONSE TO: THE JOHN HEARTFIELD INTERNET EXHIBITION AND ARCHIVE IS OBVIOUSLY AN AMBITIOUS PROJECT. ARE YOU WORKING WITH ANYONE TO BUILD AND EXPAND THIS WEBSITE? HOW IS THE EXHIBITION FUNDED? CAN VISITORS HELP IN ANY WAY?
Thank you so much for asking.
Until now, I've designed and programmed all aspects of the original John Heartfield Internet Archive and this new much larger expansion, The Official John Heartfield Internet Exhibition & Archive, entirely on my own.
I've been so fortunate to receive the support and participation of some of the world's most respected John Heartfield Scholars to assist me with facts, dates, and events. I rely on these scholars to review all presented material for tone and content.
In 2013, two talented students from Rutgers University volunteered their services as interns.
To date, funding for my grandfather's Internet projects has come entirely from my wife, Michelle, and myself. Michelle shares my dedication to this exhibition.
One of the best ways to help the exhibition is to write about it on your own website or blog. Please include a link to: www.johnheartfield.com
If you have something worthwhile to share about my grandfather or you've been influenced by his life and work, Write To John J Heartfield.
I'll be happy to discuss it with you.
Please be aware that the work you see here requires an enormous amount of funding for such tasks as digitizing, processing, organizing, and many more expenses.
So please help the Heartfield Exhibition and Archive to continue to grow.
Visit the EXHIBITION SHOP.
Or consider making a DONATION of any amount to continue to view never-before-seen material surrounding John Heartfield's art, life, and times.
CURATOR'S RESPONSE TO: PLEASE DESCRIBE HOW YOU'RE RELATED TO GERMAN DADA ARTIST JOHN HEARTFIELD (1861-1968).
I am the only surviving paternal grandson of Dada Artist John Heartfield.
My grandfather had two children – my father, Tom George Heartfield, and my aunt, Eva Sondermeijer.
[PHOTO, L-R: John Heartfield, Tom George Heartfield in his American Army Uniform. Credit: John J Heartfield Collection]
My father and mother also fought fascism. My father, Tom George Heartfield, was an American Army Officer charged with interrogating German, Italian, and Russian prisoners of war. My mother, Lina Adelina Heartfield, was an Italian Partisan. She carried salt to the freedom fighters hiding in the mountains.
My father and mother met when Tom's American Army Unit liberated my mother's hometown of Sestri Levante, Italy.
[PHOTO, L-R: Tom and Lina Heartfield on the mountains above Sestri Levante. Credit: John J Heartfield Collection]
[PHOTO: Partisan Lina Heartfield. Credit: Credit: John J Heartfield Collection]
My grandfather was delighted to welcome my mother into his family.
[PHOTO, L-R: Gertrud "Tutti" Heartfield, Lina Heartfield, John Heartfield. Credit: John J Heartfield Collection]
Everyone in our family fell in love with Italy. We vacationed there with my grandfather in the 1950s and 1960s.
[PHOTO L-R: Gertrud Heartfield, Eva Sondermeijer, John J Heartfield, Catherine Heartfield, John Heartfield, Lina Heartfield, Carla Dasso. Credit: John J Heartfield Collection]
Tom and Lina had three children. Soon after his birth, my brother, Malik, died of pneumonia in an English Hospital. My sister, Catherine, and I were born in the United States.
CURATOR'S RESPONSE TO: WHY DO YOU REFER TO YOURSELF AS JOHN J HEARTFIELD INSTEAD OF USING THE SAME NAME AS YOUR FAMOUS GRANDFATHER?
I was named John Joseph Heartfield to honor my German grandfather, John, and my Italian grandfather, Giuseppe.
English speakers call me John. My mother’s Italian family calls me Jiani.
I called John Heartfield, “grandpa.”
My Italian Family affectionately referred to him as “Professore” (Professor). People would often affectionately refer to him as “Johnny” or “Jonny.” To avoid confusion, I consistently try to use “Jonny” for my grandfather’s informal name. I always attempt to refer to myself as John J Heartfield.
By the way, everyone in our family called Jonny's widow, Gertrud, "Tutti." Although Tutti and I were not related by blood, we became very close, even more so after Johnny's death in 1968. I wrote to her and treasure her letters. Many can be found in the HIS LIFE section of the John Heartfield Exhibition & Archive.
CURATOR'S RESPONSE TO: WERE YOU ABLE TO MEET AND SPEND TIME WITH YOUR GRANDFATHER BEFORE HE DIED IN 1968?
I was very fortunate to spend summer family vacations with my grandfather and Gertrud (Tutti) on the Northwestern Italian Riviera. We also met with them in other countries in Europe.
In the nineteen fifties and sixties, my family spent summers in Italy with my mother's side of our family in Liguria (Sestri Levante and Cavi di Lavagna). Jonny and Tutti would join us there.
[PHOTO L-R: John J Heartfield, John Heartfield, Catherine Jacobson. Credit: John J Heartfield Collection]
CURATOR'S RESPONSE TO: WOULD YOU PLEASE SHARE A MEMORY FOR US, GIVING US A LITTLE INSIGHT INTO HIS PERSONALITY?
One of the clearest memories I have of my grandfather is a time we were walking together on a mountain trail along with friends and relatives. I was a young boy and he was in his senior years. Despite his age, he was perhaps more energetic.
He could have easily kept up with our party, but he often lagged behind. I became frustrated because every five or ten steps, he would stop to take a photograph of a flower or a rock or anything he found interesting.
Johnny was not a professional photographer. Most of the elements of his montages came from other sources. However, he was a most enthusiastic amateur. I had to constantly run back to where he was pointing his camera and say, “Grandpa, come on, that's just another flower.”
He just told me to be patient. Johnny was fascinated with nature. His love of animals is well documented. The majority of the oil paintings that he produced in art school, and later destroyed, feeling that they were unworthy, were landscapes.
CURATOR'S RESPONSE TO: JOHN HEARTFIELD WAS KNOWN TO HAVE A QUICK, FIERY TEMPER. DID YOU EVER WITNESS AN EXAMPLE?
If I had to describe my grandfather in two words, they would be passionate and energetic.
He was passionate about all his opinions. I clearly remember an extremely loud shouting match between my father and my grandfather that took place on a street corner while my mother, my sister, and I watched from a distance. From the intensity of their voices and hand gestures, a stranger might have thought they were arguing about a matter of life and death.
I asked my mother, “What going on? Why are they screaming at each other?”
My mother said, “Grandpa doesn’t like the hotel your father picked.”
They soon calmed down. My father idolized Jonny and supported him throughout his life. He sent my grandfather as much financial aid as he was able.
CURATOR’S RESPONSE TO: DID JOHN HEARTFIELD SPEND TIME WITH HIS OWN CHILDREN? WAS HE A FAMILY MAN? WAS HE WITH HIS CHILDREN WHILE THEY GREW UP? DID YOU HEAR EVER HEAR ANY COMPLAINTS FROM YOUR FATHER?
Jonny was definitely a family man. He deeply loved his children. Before the war, he lived with his son, Tom, and had great affection for his daughter, Eva.
[PHOTO: Tom Heartfield (in tree) and John Heartfield, Dresden. Credit: John J Heartfield Collection]
[PHOTO: A haggard worried Tom and John Heartfield, Prague, 1938. Credit: John J Heartfield Collection]
During the war, it became almost impossible for the family to maintain contact. However, after the war, we came together as often as possible given the constraints of the repressive East German (GDR) political system.
My father only spoke of my grandfather with expressions of the depth and breath of his love for Jonny and his respect for what he accomplished.
CURATOR’S RESPONSE TO: WAS YOUR FATHER, TOM HEARTFIELD INTERESTED IN VISUAL ARTS? WHAT IS YOUR LEVEL OF INTEREST? WHEN DID YOUR FATHER GO TO THE USA? WAS HE A POLITICAL REFUGEE? WHY THE UNITED STATES?
For the son of man with the core politics of John Heartfield, my father, Tom, was not political. He believed in the American Dream.
My father first came to the United States to start a business. When America got into World War Two, he joined the American Army.
In his youth, my father bicycled throughout Europe. He lived for a time with Jonny in several cities. Because of his language skills, Tom Heartfield interrogated Axis prisoners.
My mother, Lina, also fought fascism. As an Italian partisan, she carried essential salt to the freedom fighters hiding in the mountains. My mother and father met when Americans liberated her home town of Sestri Levante, Italy.
Back in America, my father’s business partner bankrupted his business and ran off with his first wife. My father and his first wife subsequently divorced.
My father and mother were soon married. My mother gave birth to their first son, Malik, who was named after my grandfather’s publishing house, Malik-Verlag. Malik, still an infant, died from pneumonia in an English Hospital.
My father and mother went to America. He became a typesetter and a proofreader for a German language newspaper. My father was also very active in his union, Local 6, eventually spending many nights working as its financial officer. However, he did not inherit the artistic DNA of my grandfather.
I studied literature. My undergraduate degree is in computer science. Rather than pursue a doctoral degree in mathematics at the Courant Institute, I applied to the Interactive Telecommunications Program, Tisch School of the Arts, New York University.
The ITP program, chaired by the iconic Red Burns, was one of the first post graduate programs in America to meld the visual and sound arts with computer technology. Red Burns subsequently became my friend and mentor.
When I received my masters, Red chose me to be honored with a Tisch School of the Arts award “for pioneering work in interactive media.”
I keep busy.
I consider my most important work to be the construction and maintenance of the Official John Heartfield Exhibition & Archive. I designed and programmed all content, greatly assisted by John Heartfield Scholars, visitor input, and most recently, and two talented interns from the Rutgers University Art History Program.
I’m constantly searching for funding to continue and expand the Official John Heartfield Exhibition & Archive. If you enjoy any part of the Archive, please visit the EXHIBITION SHOP or donate any amount on the EXHIBITION DONATION page. All donations go directly to building, expanding, and maintaining the Official John Heartfield Exhibition & Archive.
I wrote Make Your Small Business Website Work, Easy Answers To Content, Navigation, and Design (Rockport Publishers). As the director of eCurtain Media LLC, I help small business succeed on the Internet.
My latest novel is Controlling Time, an action adventure mystery. I’m working on a new novel about an unusual New York City Homicide Detective.
I’m an accomplished musician and songwriter. My latest project is a musical centered around the life and times of my courageous grandfather.
I’ve taught more than twenty-five courses in digital design and programming in schools such as the Interactive Telecommunications Program (New York University) and the Stern School of Business (New York University). I’ll always be an educator.
In addition, I’m an entrepreneur. I develop software and hardware.Almost all my projects begin when I start thinking, “Why doesn't that exist?”
CURATOR’S RESPONSE TO: HEARTFIELD WAS A VERY BRAVE ARTIST. HE USED ARTS AS A WAY OF QUOTING HIS POLITICAL IDEAS FEARLESSLY. THIS CHOICE UNDOUBTEDLY AFFECTED HIS LIVING CONDITIONS AND FAMILY RELATIONS IN A NEGATIVE WAY. HE LEFT HIS COUNTRY, HE WAS EXPATRIATED, AND HAD TO LIVE AWAY FROM HIS FAMILY. DID ANY OF HIS FAMILY MEMBERS HAVE ANY REACTION OR ANGER ABOUT THIS?
Obviously, everyone in my family was concerned about Johnny’s safety and living conditions
Jonny, after his years in England, begged to be allowed to continue to live there. He argued it was essential for both his health and his work. His pleas were denied. He was refused admission to the United States. He was hoping to join his son, Tom, and his beloved brother, Wieland.
In my opinion, my grandfather fought as bravely as any Allied Soldier on a battlefield. As he fought fascism, his life was in constant danger. I believe denying him refugee status was a shameful act by the governments of Czechoslovakia, England, and the United States.
My family would have gladly welcomed Johnny into our home. There was always great joy when we were able to spend time with him in Europe and tremendous frustration when it was not possible.
Although he was often on the run, Johnny remained close to his family, especially my father, Tom, and Johnny’s daughter, Eva. I have many postcards, letters, and books that are signed with loving messages to “Tömsel” and his family.
Jonny wrote a wonderful poem to his son, Tom, who was fighting as an American Soldier in World War II. It can be found in the HIS LIFE section.
I strongly believe Johnny suffered two great injustices in his lifetime.
The first was his internment in an English concentration camp when he was forced to flee Czechoslovakia one step ahead of the Nazis. To my knowledge, he was interned simply because he was a German National. Johnny’s health suffered greatly during this period. Photos of him after his release clearly show his gaunt pale appearance. Johnny was quite demoralized by this treatment. He considered going to trade school to make a living.
The second was when Johnny was forced to return East Germany after the war. He came under suspicion by the Stasi, the brutal GDR secret police, because of the length of time he had lived in England, outside of communist influence. Also, his dentist was under suspicion for his political activities.
Johnny was denied admission to the Akademie Der Künste for six years. This meant that he was denied the level of healthcare that would have been afforded a member of the Akademie Der Künste. He suffered heart attacks. The official neglect likely shortened his life.
Shortly before his death, on the morning before he left for an exhibition in Czechoslovakia on a temporary visa, John Heartfield executed a short will with his wife, Gertud. The will made no mention of anyone but Gertrud. There was no mention of his beloved son, Tom, or his daughter, Eva. Essentially, it was a document that turned over everything he had, including all personal possessions, to East Germany.
Johnny had been denied admission to the Akademie Der Künste for six years. This meant that he was denied the level of healthcare that would have been afforded a member of the Akademie Der Künste. He suffered heart attacks. The official neglect likely shortened his life.
He was admitted to GDR Akademie Der Künste only after his great friends, Bertoldt Brecht and Stefan Heym intervened on his behalf.
CURATOR'S RESPONSE TO: BECAUSE OF HIS ILL HEALTH BEFORE HE DIED, DID HE HAVE ANY PHYSICAL OR MENTAL CHANGES OR ANY EXTRAORDINARY BEHAVIOR?
This is a somewhat strange question. John Heartfield exhibited “extraordinary behavior” throughout his life. My grandfather's passion to expose hypocrisy and political insanity drove him to risk his life time after time. His ceaseless energy gave him the ability to produce his powerful political art under the most challenging conditions imaginable.
If the visitor wishes to know if he lost his memory or ability to think clearly during his final years, then I would have to write that, to my knowledge, he remained cogent until his death.
Shown here is a note that Johnny wrote to my father on the inside of a book cover in 1967, one year before my grandfather's death in 1968. It's clear that his handwriting is strong and his mind is clear.
[PHOTO: Inscription By John Heartfield To His Son, Tom, 1967. Credit: John J Heartfield Collection]
Videos of him in his later years demonstrate quite clearly that he remained articulate. In those videos, he expresses himself in his quick emphatic verbal style.
CURATOR'S RESPONSE TO: AS FAR AS YOU CAN REMEMBER, CAN YOU PLEASE DESCRIBE JOHN HEARTFIELD AS A SENIOR? CAN YOU TAKE A PICTURE OF JOHN HEARTFIELD, AN EXCITED CHARACTER WHO CHALLENGED THE RULING PEOPLE OF HIS TIME WITH HIS SARCASTIC MONTAGES, WHEN EVERYTHING SETTLED DOWN IN THE NINETEEN SIXTIES?
John Heartfield did not believe that everything settled down in the 1960′s. He remained vocal about what he considered insane political views and actions up to, and including, his final days. Although he was much less prolific, he executed montages that warned of the dangers of the atomic bomb and the arms race.
My grandfather was, above all, always a pacifist. His work shows he didn't advocate violent revolution.
From my conversations with him, I'm convinced his personal view of communism changed later in life. In his early years, he believed that communism was humanity's best hope for equality and world peace.
Following the treatment he received from the totalitarian regime of East Germany (GDR), he must have been disappointed by the way the reality of communism did not resemble the naïve idealistic political theory.
When my grandfather was forced to return to East Germany after his exile in England, he was officially neglected by the East German Government (GDR). He came under suspicion by the Stasi, the GDR secret police, because of the length of time he had spent in England, a capitalist country. He was suspected because his dentist was under investigations for "actions" against the state.
For six years, my grandfather was denied admission to the East German Academy of the Arts (Akademie Der Künste) for six years. His health deteriorated. He was unable to work as an artist. It was only through the intervention of Bertoldt Brecht and Stefan Heym that Heartfield was formally admitted to the East German Akademie der Künste (Academy of the Arts) in 1956.
CURATOR’S RESPONSE TO: QUOTING A BOOK(?): “THEN IN 1968, AFTER REVISITING LONDON, HE (HEARTFIELD) HAD A THIRD HEART ATTACK AND DIED. HIS BROTHER, WHO PUBLISHED A VIVID, IF SLIGHTLY DOCTORED ACCOUNT OF HIS LIFE AND WORK, WOULD SURVIVE HIM BY TWENTY YEARS.” DO YOU AGREE WITH THIS?
It would be helpful when visitor site sources, they give specific information. Thank you.
Johnny passed away in 1968 from a heart attack. Wieland lived for several years afterwards.
I remember being shocked to find my normally taciturn father, Tom, crying like a child in our living room in Elmhurst, Queens, in New York City.
“What’s wrong?” I said.
“Papa’s gone,” he said.
Shortly afterwards, my father traveled to East Berlin to attend my grandfather's funeral.
Tom Heartfield was treated like a celebrity. However, there something I can’t understand. Under German Law, my father would have only needed to sign a simple document in order to claim his right to one quarter of Johnny’s estate. That would have included one quarter of his art catalog. Perhaps he didn’t do so because he felt it would endanger my grandmother’s (Gertrud Heartfield) position in the repressive and dangerous East German Regime. Gertrud (Tutti) was Johnny’s widow and my paternal grandmother. Perhaps my father believed the Berlin Wall would never come down. It's my contention, because he never spoke of it to me during his lifetime, that my father’s legal rights were never made clear to him. Why wouldn’t he want his beloved father’s work to be displayed in America?
I only found out about my grandfather’s estate long after my father passed away. I can guarantee, however, that if my father had taken possession of some of Johnny’s art at any point, originals of his work would be on display this moment in museums such The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Getty Museum, MOMA, and the Holocaust Museum.
CURATOR'S RESPONSE TO: ACCORDING TO THE RESOURCES IT IS NOT KNOWN WHERE FRANZ HERZFELDE’S WIFE, ALICE STOLZENBERG, IS. DO YOU HAVE ANY INFORMATION ABOUT WHERE SHE WAS UNTIL HER DEATH IN 1911 OR WHERE SHE LIVED?
According to Heartfield Scholar Professor Andrés Mario Zervigón, author of the brilliant must-read book, John Heartfield and The Agitated Image, Alice Stolzenberg lived in Berlin, shuffling between a mental institution and a boarding house, until her death.
Sadly, Jonny’s mother and father suffered from mental disorders of varying severity.
CURATOR’S RESPONSE TO: THERE IS ALMOST NO INFORMATION ABOUT YOUR GRANDMOTHER HELENE BALZER, YOUR FATHER TOM HEARTFIELD, YOUR COUSIN GEORGE, ETC. CAN YOU MAKE A FAMILY TREE OF FOUR GENERATIONS STARTING FROM FRANZ HERZFELD FINISHING WITH YOU (AS WE ARE INTERVIEWING YOU) WITH DATES OF BIRTH AND DEATH?
A John Heartfield Family Tree will be forthcoming in the HIS LIFE section of the Official John Heartfield Exhibition & Archive. Please continue to check Facebook, Twitter, and other Heartfield Networking Sites to find out when it’s available
For the moment, I’ll provide this information. John Heartfield had two children – his son, Tom George Heartfield and his daughter, Eva Heartfield (married surname: Sondermeijer). My father, Tom George Heartfield, married Lina Adelina Bo (married surname: Heartfield). They had three children: My brother, Malik, who died in infancy, my older sister, Catherine Heartfield, and myself, John Joseph Heartfield. My sister, Catherine, and I reside in America. Eva had two children – Bob Sondermeijer and Jolanda Sondermeijer. I knew Wieland Herzfelde's son, George, quite well. He was a resident of Switzerland before he passed away.
Three montages immediately come to mind.
Hitler Swallows Gold and spits Junk is a masterpiece with an eternal message. Those in power often spew hatred because of the huge compensation that lies in that activity.
The Meaning of Geneva, with an image that employs the simple ferocity of a dove impaled on a bayonet, is an unforgettable statement of how innocents are brutalized by war. It is especially powerful montage for me because, like my famous grandfather, I love animals and nature. I'm certain this work must have had an especially strong emotional component for my grandfather.
Lately, I've stared for long periods of time at Hurrah, The Butter Is All! This work of art has so much nuance. Its message is timeless. A family's hunger is sacrificed for the military industrial complex.
I recently granted copyright permission for a scholar in the United States to use "Hurrah, The Butter is All!" in her successful PhD thesis entitled The Politics of the Table: Nutrition and the Telescopic Body in Saxon Germany, 1890-1935.
CURATOR’S RESPONSE TO: DO YOU HAVE ANY SPECIAL OBJECTS, POSSESSIONS, ETC., THAT REMIND YOU OF YOUR GRANDFATHER?
Yes. I have a wonderful collection of personal photographs, cameras, letters, postcards, video, and even a bronze medal.
I also have some special pieces of original art, including the only surviving oil painting by John Heartfield, "The Cottage In The Woods."
My collection is stored at a temperature controlled secure facility. I’m in the process of having the collection evaluated for its artistic and historic value.
As I have objects digitized and organized, I'll present them on the Official John Heartfield Exhibition & Archive.
Eventually, I intend is to donate a large part of my collection to a major art research institute.
Recently, I asked the Akademie Der Künste in Berlin to supply me with some photographs of John Heartfield’s maquettes (originals from which the reproductions were produced). In a letter to me this March (2014), they refused to provide anything to me, claiming that I was academically unworthy to display my grandfather’s art. I’ll have much more to present to the public in another section of the exhibition.
I remain astonished that, although the Akademie Der Künste is aware of my collection, they have expressed no interest in it whatsoever.
CURATOR'S RESPONSE TO: VISITOR'S QUESTION: DO YOU THINK THAT JOHN HEARTFIELD’S WORKS ARE STILL DISTURBING SOME PEOPLE? HAVE YOU WITNESSED ANY REACTIONS TO HIS WORK FROM NEONAZIS OR THE KU KLUX KLAN?
John Heartfield did not risk his life and execute his courageous political montages to disturb personalities such as Adolf Hitler, Herman Göring, and Benito Mussolini.
His goal was to expose their insane philosophies and ridicule their hypocrisy to as many reasonable people as possible.
Of course, he aimed to disturb his audience. He wanted to show that fascism was a deeply flawed political ideology. His genius was that he was able to do that with humor, word and image juxtaposition, and a brilliant visual sensibility.
Since I don’t interact with members of Neo-Nazi Groups or members of the Ku Klux Klan, I can only imagine how they might react to a Heartfield montage such as Hitler Swallows Gold and spits Junk.
Without referring to a specific group or personality, it is clear to me that Heartfield’s brand of political satire is as relevant today as it was in the 1930s. The supreme court decision Citizens United gives modern politicians the ability to swallow gold and spit junk.
CURATOR'S RESPONSE TO: FROM JOHN HEARTFIELD’S DEATH IN 1968 UNTIL THE 1993 MOMA EXHIBITION THERE WERE NO EXHIBITIONS FOR TWENTY-FIVE YEARS. IT IS POSSIBLE TO RELATE THAT FACT DIRECTLY TO THE COLD WAR. AFTER THE DEMOLITION OF THE BERLIN WALL, EVERYTHING WAS COMPARATIVELY BETTER. WOULD YOU COMMENT ON THE POLICIES REGARDING EXHIBITIONS OF THE EAST AND WEST GERMAN ACADEMIES OF THE ARTS (ACADEMIE DER KUNSTE)?
I have no idea how the Akademie Der Künste makes decisions regarding Heartfield Exhibitions.
Below is a list of John Heartfield Exhibitions recently sent to me by the Akademie Der Künste. It is reproduced exactly as it appear in their email to me.
1969 Berlin/West (NGBK= Neue Gesellschaft für Bildende)
1969 Stuttgart, West Germany
1969 Ville de la Courneuve, France
1970 Copenhagen, Denmark
1970 1970 Södertälje, Sweden
1971 Berlin/East, Akademie Der Künste , Ost
1975 Eindhoven, Netherlands
1976 Berlin/West, Elefantenpress
1976 Skopje, Macedonia
1977 Oldenburg, Elefantenpress C.v.Ossietzky-University
1978 Venice, Italy
1978 Zürich, Switzerland (Kunstgewerbemuseum )
1979 Berlin/West, Haus am Lützow-Platz
1981 Berlin/East, National Gallery (Daumier+Heartfield)
1989 Frankfurt/Main, West Germany, University Library
Judge for yourself how many of these exhibitions were in major museums.
Art historians have told me that John Heartfield can be found on almost every list of the most influential artists of the twentieth century. Yet, I constantly meet people (even those heavily involved in the world of art here in New York City) who tell me they’ve never heard of an artist named John Heartfield
For many years, I haven’t agreed with many of the policies of the Akademie Der Künste (both in the GDR and modern Germany) that directly affected my grandfather's recognition and renown. However, recently I've made a concerted effort to ignore the past. I wanted to develop a productive relationship with the Akademie Der Künste to move towards what I hoped would be our mutual goals.
I visited the Heartfield Archive (East German Akademie Der Künste) in East Berlin for three days shortly after the Berlin Wall came down. I was stunned at the sheer amount of Heartfield art stored in the Heartfield Archive. There are literally floors of original art. There are models of John Heartfield's stage sets and sketches for famous playwrights.
Therefore, I've made formal requests (most recently in an email dated April, 2014) to the Akademie Der Künste to provide me with photographs of the wonderful Heartfield art stored in Heartfield Archive in Germany's Akademie Der Künste. This March, 2014, I received an unconditional refusal stating reasons that were clearly uninformed and invalid.
These policies of the Akademie Der Künste greatly disappoint and sadden me. I knew my grandfather. The distribution of his art, his message, was what John Heartfield sacrificed for, risked his life for, and strived for throughout his entire life. The idea that any part of his work would be held in a government institution where only those with geographic proximity or the proper artistic pedigree could see and study it would sicken him.
He would drag into the light this blatant injustice and misuse of power. For his legacy, I shall do the same.
I plan for the John Heartfield Exhibition & Archive to become a hub for worldwide visitors to share their thoughts about John Heartfield’s life and work. Pro or con, I will also share visitors' thoughts about the Akademie Der Künste.
CURATOR’S RESPONSE TO: ARE YOU AWARE OF ANY INTERVIEW OF YOUR GRANDFATHER THAT WE COULD FIND ON INTERNET AND USE?
I did an interview for a local Italian television station. The interview is in Italian. It’s available on YouTube. The interview also features me performing one of my original songs, In The Meantime.
There are many interviews and videos of John Heartfield available on You Tube. This is one of the goals I have for the Official John Heartfield Exhibition & Archive. I want to bring together a database of interviews and works by artists who are influenced by John Heartfield’s work.
One way to see many Heartfield videos is to watch my own video on YouTube, Heartfield's Born Yesterday, a song I wrote with my grandfather’s montages in mind, and access the videos on the right side of the page.
CURATOR'S RESPONSE TO: THE FIRST INTERNATIONAL EXHIBITION FOR JOHN HEARTFIELD WAS IN MOMA IN 1993. DO YOU THINK THAT AMERICAN’S POINT OF VIEW WITH REGARD JOHN HEARTFIELD CHANGED AFTER THAT EXHIBITION? WHAT KIND OF CHANGES CAN WE TALK ABOUT UNTIL THAT DAY AND AFTER THAT DAY?
NOTE: Heartfield’s first international show was in Moscow in 1931. There was an exhibition in Paris in 1935, followed by one in New York in 1938. There were several more after the war. [Source: Andrés Mario Zervigón, Associate Director of Art History, Rutgers University].
I can’t speak for the American People regarding the 1993 MOMA exhibition. The MOMA Exhibition was extremely well reviewed in newspapers such as The New York Times. You can browse through the MOMA catalog for the 1993 Heartfield Exhibition in the HIS LIFE section of the Official John Heartfield Exhibition & Archive.
I strolled through the crowds at the MOMA exhibition and saw how thrilled people were to see the originals (maquettes) that contained not only the many touches Johnny added to the his montages by hand, but also Johnny’s detailed notes to the rotogravure masters.
I’ve asked the Akademie Der Künste to provide me with high-resolution photos of the maquettes and other pieces of Jonny’s art stored in the Heartfield Archiv in Berlin so that scholars and the public can enjoy them. The Akademie Der Künste refused my request for any photographs.
CURATOR’S RESPONSE TO: JOHN HEARTFIELD PIONEERED MONTAGE TECHNIQUES THAT ARE CURRENTLY USED IN A GREAT MANY AREAS SUCH AS GRAPHIC ARTS AND ADVERTISING. WE KNOW THAT HE WAS GIVEN A DEGREE AND A DOCTORATE AT THE UNIVERSITY. APART FROM THESE DID HE GET ANY CERTIFICATES OF APPRECIATION, AWARDS, PLATES, ETC. OR ANY OTHER SUPPORTS FROM PRIVATE SECTOR OR PUBLIC CORPORATIONS HITHERTO?
I’m very fond of this quote from John Heartfield. When he was offered a teaching job, he responded, “Do I have to become a professor?”
Frankly, I believe that awards or certificates of appreciation meant very little to my grandfather. To think that any personal or individual award would be relevant to my grandfather would be to misunderstand how he viewed the world.
However, if visitors are interested, art scholars tell me that this kind of information is available in the Wieland Herzfelde Biography of John Heartfield and the 1993 MOMA Exhibition Catalog.
One important commercial outlet for John Heartfield's work was Malik-Verlag, the publishing house that he founded and partnered with his brother, Wieland Herzfelde. Jonny and Wieland were extremely close. There’s a strong argument to be made that the accomplishments of John Heartfield would not have been possible without the support and collaboration of Wieland Herzfelde.
Wieland also had a warm close relationship with my father, Tom.
[PHOTO: 1962 John Heartfield and Wieland Herzfelde Book Inscription To John Heartfield’s son, Tom Heartfield. Credit: John J Heartfield Collection]
My father, Tom George Heartfield, emotionally and financially supported my grandfather, Jonny. My father sent as much money to Jonny as he was able to as often as he was able to do so. When Jonny’s wife, Gertrud Heartfield, wrote to my father in New York and requested that he return original pieces of Jonny's art that was stored in our house in Queens, he said he did so without hesitation. Because of the subsequent actions of the Akademie Der Künste, my father and I regretted that action.
If not for my father’s loyalty to Gertrud, John Heartfield’s maquettes would now be hanging in museums such MOMA, The Getty Museum, The Holocaust Museum, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.