We did so to make it clear that Heartfield’s montages did not—like a well-told joke – simply combine picture and text in a provoking manner. For him, montage was more a symbolic form in which, apart from photos and texts, tonal values, the colors and structure of the material, the precisely calculated organization of the visual plane, and the imaginary visual space devised by means of retouching produced many levels of meaning. Heartfield is not being aestheticized. Instead, the diversity and ambivalence of his montages become obvious. Thus his works extend beyond political current events, allowing the viewer to develop his thoughts, imagination, and sensual perceptiveness. The fact that the current political trend has not faded is assured by reality itself, which tries even nowadays to live up to the satirical montages in a violent and impertinent manner.
George Grosz and the Berlin art scene introduced the young German landscape painter John Heartfield to the artistic anarchy of Dada in 1916. The process of cutting and pasting together elements to form a cohesive image that provided the viewer with a message in the form of a visual jolt became the foundation of Heartfield’s later photo montages. He burned all his oil paintings except one. Only The Cottage In The Woods survives in The John J Heartfield Collection. This impulsive act of self-editing led Heartfield on the path to becoming one of Germany’s most important Dada and political artists.
Heartfield is credited as founder of the art of mondern photo montage. His 3-D graphic designs for Malik-Verlag publishing revolutionized advertising design. Heartfield’s book dust jackets told a “story” from the front of the book cover to the back. He took typography in a new direction by incorporating his custom letters into his graphic designs.
Each element of Grosz-Heartfield Dada work, a seeming cacophony of mixed media, was actually carefully placed inside their collages to create stunning works of art with a clear message to those who took the time to look.
In many circles, Heartfield has been simply described as a “communist artist” or “anti-Nazi artist” or “anti-fascist artist” due to his youthful affiliation with the German Communist Party, the KPD. However, Heartfield was never a party functionary. In reality, the party attacked him for the free thinking inherent in his artwork. In Weimar Germany, the KPD was the only true political threat to the rise of Adolf Hitler and The Nazi Party. The idealistic young Heartfield could not have foreseen the nightmarish communist dictatorships that arose after World War II. In his senior years, East German communism would betray Heartfield. His years in East Germany had a devasting effect on his health and his legacy.
John Heartfield excelled in every form of artistic endeavor he attempted. His historic theatre collaborations with Bertolt Brecht helped the world-famous playwright and composer develop a new form of theatre. A form of theatre became a worldwide sensation.
In a real sense, all John Heartfield art was “art as a weapon” whether he used it against fascism or what the Dadaists believe was artistic cooperation with the corruption of the Weimar Republic.
The art currently available in Art As A Weapon is only a sample of Heartfield’s artistic legacy. Please continue to visit the Exhibition often as many more photo montages, advertising graphic design, theatre stage sets, and much more.