Gertrud writes to Heartfield’s son, Tom George. Heartfield, in New York. She asks him to help her with the archive. She also asks Tom to return his father’s original art to East Berlin from storage in Queens, New York.
Two days after Heartfield’s death, a “Marriage Certificate” was issued by East Germany (GDR) documenting Heartfield’s name change (1964) and the marriage of John and Gertrud Heartfield (1952).
In 1969, one year after Heartfield’s death, Gertrud signs an agreement that transfers all of John Heartfield’s original art and ephemera (material related to the art) to the Heartfield Archiv, East German Akademie der Künste (The Heartfield Archive, East Germany Academy Of Art. The archive is tasked with conserving, organizing, cataloging, and exhibiting John Heartfield’s art and possessions in order to preserve his legacy. Of course, it’s an accepted responsibility of any artist’s archive to allow access to scholars so they may study material necessary for the publication of books, articles, essays, and theses.
In 1957, Heartfield’s art was retrieved from his 1931 Moscow Exhibition. When all of Heartfield’s art and personal possessions have been transferred to the Heartfield Archiv (Heartfield Archive), they become, as they always were, property of the state.
The Heartfield Archiv, Akademie der Künste, holds approximately 64 original pieces of John Heartfield’s photomontages (maquettes). These are the works containing the elements that Heartfield meticulously put together using many types of media. The maquettes display Heartfield’s mastery of collage technique. They also show his precise instructions to the rotogravure masters who made mass distribution of Heartfield’s art possible.
The Heartfield Archiv also contains sketches and models of John Heartfield’s stage designs for Bertolt Brecht and many other important playwrights. In addition, there are historic photos and documents.
In short, Berlin’s Heartfield Archiv (John Heartfield Archive) is a treasure trove of art and materials directly related to one of the most influential artists of the twentieth century.
The curator believes there are factors that have directly impacted John Heartfield’s reputation and renown that cannot be dismissed. Documents and letters show that the policies and actions of the John Heartfield Archiv (Heartfield Archive) have often been at odds with the recognized policies of any major artist’s archive. The curator believes these policies has been driven by a combination of financial necessity and political circumstances. In any case, those policies have directly contributed to a question that is heard much too often. Who is John Heartfield? Why is the greatest political artist and graphic designer of the twentieth century unknown to so many?
The Official John Heartfield Exhibition curator traveled to Berlin at the invitation of the Heartfield Archiv, Akademie der Künste. The invitation was extended so that the new archive director could address the curator’s concerns in a face-to-face meeting. Progress was made. However, serious issues remain to be addressed.
Please refer to the expanding section of this exhibition entitled Hidden Genius for the curator’s continuing commentary on the policies of The Heartfield Archive (Heartfield Archive, Akademie der Künste).