To learn more about the curator’s own work, please visit: John J Heartfield’s Official Website

John Heartfield’s Grandson Answers Questions About John Heartfield

The following questions about John Heartfield and his family come from visitors and scholars.

Only the form of the questions may have been slightly edited for clarity.

You can EMAIL THE CURATOR with any question about John Heartfield’s personal or professional life.



You’re doing great work with The John Heartfield Exhibition. I learned so much about his life and his work. This is obviously an ambitious project. Are you working with anyone or any foundation to build and expand the website?

My Response

Thank you so much for asking.

In 2008, I was deeply disappointed that my grandfather's art, so powerful and relevant, didn't appear in Google searches for the very aspects of modern art he developed and deeply influenced. ‘John Heartfield’ wasn't even a Google result for a ‘photomontage’ search! I decided I had to devote my life to changing that.

I designed and programmed every aspect of the first Official John Heartfield Photomonteur Archive.

In 2011, I completely redesigned that site to create a more interesting and interactive experience: The Official John Heartfield Internet & Archive.

I provided all the funding myself until I knew I needed support. So, in 2016, I began asking for Visitor Donations of any amount to help pay for graphic designers, researchers, professional image and video digitizing, and all the many expenses that come with maintaining such a large website.

The John Heartfield Exhibition Shop opened in 2015. It's a "museum shop" offering exclusive high-quality items featuring photo quality John Heartfield masterpieces, as well as several great artists influenced by Heartfield. All profits from the shop go directly towards maintaining and expanding this exhibition as it grows into an Online Museum Of Progressive Art.

Write To Me if you’re an artist or writer interested in having your work featured.

The Official John Heartfield Internet & Archive has been fortunate to receive the participation of some of the world's most respected art scholars. They assist me with facts, dates, and commentaries. I rely on these scholars to review all presented material for tone and content. I cannot thank them enough.

A great way to help the exhibition is to write about it on your own website or blog. Please include a visible live link to:
Including that link is also necessary whenever you display John Heartfield’s art on the Internet. That way, you can help your audience fully appreciate the depth of my grandfather's artistic legacy and the heroic nature of his incredible life.



Please describe how you're related to the brilliant German artist John Heartfield (1891-1968)?

My Response

I am the only surviving paternal grandson of Dada artist, photomontage pioneer, and groundbreaking stage designer John Heartfield.

My grandfather had two children – my father, Tom George Heartfield, and my aunt, Eva Sondermeijer.

[PHOTO, L-R: My grandfather John Heartfield, his only son, Tom George Heartfield, in his American Army Uniform. Image Credit: John J Heartfield Collection]

about John Heartfield and only son, Tom George Heartfield, World War Two

My father and mother also fought fascism. My father, Tom George Heartfield, was an American Army Officer charged with interrogating 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. Image Credit: John J Heartfield Collection]

Tom George Heartfield and Lina A. Heartfield

[PHOTO: Partisan Lina Heartfield. Image Credit: John J Heartfield Collection]

about John Heartfield daughter by marriage

My grandfather was delighted to welcome my mother into his family.

[PHOTO, L-R: Gertrud "Tutti" Heartfield, Lina Heartfield, John Heartfield. Image Credit: John J Heartfield Collection]

about John Heartfield, his wife Gertrud, and daughter-in-law Lina Heartfield

My grandfather fell in love with Italy. Our family vacationed there with him whenever he could get a temporary visa from East Germany in the 1950s and 1960s.

[PHOTO L-R: Gertrud Heartfield, Eva Sondermeijer, John J Heartfield, Catherine Heartfield, John Heartfield, Lina Heartfield, Carla Dasso. Image Credit: John J Heartfield Collection] John Heartfield's Extended Family, Italy, 1950s

Tom and Lina Heartfield had three children. Soon after his birth, my brother, Malik, died of pneumonia. My sister, Catherine, and I were born in the United States.



Why do you refer to yourself as John J Heartfield instead of using the same name as your famous grandfather?

My Response

I was named John Joseph Heartfield to honor my German grandfather, John, and my Italian grandfather, Giuseppe (Joseph). My grandfather changed his named from “Helmut Herzfeld” to “John Heartfield” around 1916 to protest the out-of-control nationalism sweeping through the streets of Berlin.

English speakers call me John. My mother’s Italian family calls me "Jiani".

I called the artist John Heartfield, “Grandpa”.

My Italian Family affectionately called John Heartfield “Professore” (Professor).

In reality, he was the farthest thing from a staid professor. He was truly a man of the people. He would happily stop and chat with an interesting stranger who approached him.

People would often affectionately refer to him as “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.

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 my grandfather's death in 1968. I wrote to her and treasure her letters. I'll soon post the best ones about John Heartfield in the HIS LIFE section of The John Heartfield Exhibition & Archive.



Were you able to meet and spend time with your grandfather before he died in 1968?

My Response

I was very fortunate to spend summer family vacations with my grandfather and Gertrud (Tutti) on the Northwestern Italian Riviera when they were able to get temporary visas from East Germany. In the nineteen fifties and sixties, my family spent summers in Italy with my mother's side of our family in Liguria, in the towns of Sestri Levante and Cavi di Lavagna.

My grandfather and Tutti would join us there. My family also spent some time with them in other areas of Europe. The times I spent with my grandfather are some of the best memories of my childhood.

These memories are only one of the reasons I am so committed to opposing all obstacles to increasing my grandfather's much deserved recognition and renown.

[PHOTO L-R: John J Heartfield, John Heartfield, Catherine Jacobson. Credit: John J Heartfield Collection]

John Heartfield and Exhibition curator, John J Heartfield



Would you please share a memory of him. That might give us some insight into his personality?

My Response

I remember so clearly walking with my grandfather on mountain trails in Italy along with my family and our friends. I was a young boy and he was in his senior years. Despite his failing health and age, he often seemed more energetic than me.

He could have kept up with everyone, 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. There are boxes of these photographs in The John J Heartfield Collection

My grandfather was not a professional photographer. Most of the photographic elements in his montages were shot by professionals or came from other sources. However, he was an enthusiastic amateur. Much more so in his later years. There was always a photo or movie camera near his hands on our vacations together. 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. He 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, because he felt they were unworthy of attention, were landscapes.



John Heartfield was known to have a quick fiery temper. Did you ever see your grandfather get really angry?

My Response

If I had to describe my grandfather in two words, they would be passionate and energetic.

He was passionate about his opinions. I clearly remember a violent shouting match between my father and my grandfather that took place on an Italian street corner as my mother, my sister, and I watched from across the street. 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 thought they would actually get physical with each other.

I turned to my mother and asked, “What going on? Why are they screaming like that?”

My mother said, “Don't worry, it's nothing. Grandpa doesn’t like the hotel.”

They soon calmed down. My father idolized my grandfather. He supported him throughout his life. He sent my grandfather as much money as he was able.

The only day I saw my father truly break down and cry was the day we learned my grandfather had passed away.



How was John Heartfield as a father? Was he a family man? Did your father ever complain about his childhood?

My Response

My grandfather 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. Image Credit: John J Heartfield Collection]

About John Heartfield and his son, Tom, Dresden

[PHOTO: About John Heartfield and his haggard worried son, Tom, Prague, 1938. Image Credit: John J Heartfield Collection]

John Heartfield and his son, Tom, Prague, 1938

Often, it was nearly 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 words that revealed the depth and breath of his love for him, as well as his respect for what he accomplished.



Are you an artist? Was your father, Tom Heartfield, interested inthe arts? When did your father go to the United States? Was he a political refugee?

My Response

I began studying music and writing stories at the age of eleven. Years later, I earned a university degree in computer science. I enrolled in the Courant Institute of Mathematics at New York University. However, my grandfather's DNA called to me. So I left Courant and applied to the Interactive Telecommunications Program, Tisch School of the Arts, NYU.

The ITP program, chaired by the iconic Red Burns, was possibly the first, and became the foremost, post graduate program in America to bring together visual, text, and sound artists with digital technology. Red Burns subsequently became my good friend and mentor. We traveled to Tokyo together.

When I received my masters degree, Red chose me to receive a Tisch School of the Arts Award “for pioneering work in interactive media.”

My ITP years were incredible, mostly because of the amazing people around me. The ITP student common room was alive 24 hours a day.

In 2016, I was a featured speaker at the DADA WORLD FAIR in San Francisco, sponsored by City Lights Bookstore. It was easy to relate ITP to Dada. Dadaists tore apart reality and put it together in completely new ways.

I keep busy in addition to my responsibilities as curator of this exhibition.

I'm writing a musical entitled One Hand! It tells the story of my grandfather's cinematic life and astonishing artistic output. The show is at once a humorous and terrifying tale of what happens whenever nationalism spins out of control.

As the director of eCurtain Media LLC, I represent small businesses on the Internet. I wrote Make Your Small Business Website Work: Easy Answers To Content, Navigation, and Design

My latest novel is Controlling Time - an action adventure mystery. I’m working on a sequel and new novel about an unusual New York City homicide detective.

I’ve taught more than twenty-five courses in digital design and programming in schools such as New York University and The Stern School of Business.

Of course, my main concern is maintaining and expanding The Official John Heartfield Exhibition & Archive. I designed and programmed the entire site.

After years of self funding this exhibition, it was clear I needed help from researchers, digitizers, graphic designers, and all the talent and materials a major website requires. If you enjoyed any part of The John Heartfield Exhibition, please GIVE ANY AMOUNT to help this site grow into an Online Museum Of Progressive Art, a tribute to John Heartfield and a showcase for political artists and all groundbreaking graphic designers.

Also check out the high quality items in THE JOHN HEARTFIELD EXHIBITION SHOP. All contributions and profits from the shop go directly towards maintaining and expanding this website.

If you’re a political artist or cutting-edge graphic designer who would like to see their art featured on the exhibition, then write to me.


John Heartfield's son, Tom, believed in the American Dream. He worked hard and served faithfully for many years as the Secretary Treasurer of the Typographical Union Number 6 in New York.

My father first came to the United States to start a printing business. When America joined the Allied Forces in World War II, he joined the American Army.

In his youth, he had bicycled all over Europe. He lived for a time with my grandfather in several cities. His languages skills (he spoke seven languages fluently) were invaluable to the Allies.

My Italian mother, Lina, also fought fascism. She was an Italian partisan. She carried essential salt to the freedom fighters hiding in the mountains. My mother and father met when Americans liberated her hometown of Sestri Levante, Italy.

My father and mother married in Europe. My brother, Malik, named after Malik-Verlag, died while still an infant.

My father brought my mother to New York City. Even with the GI Bill, life was hard for them. My father eventually became a typesetter and a proofreader for a German language newspaper.

He was a brilliant man, but he did not inherit the artistic DNA of my grandfather.



Your grandfather made daring choices, risking his life to oppose fascism. Did this effect his family relations in a negative way. Did your family members have any reaction or anger about this?

My Response

Obviously, everyone in my family was concerned about my grandfather's safety and living conditions

We tried to bring him to America. He had begged to be allowed to continue to live in England. He argued it was essential for ‘his health and his work.’ All his requests for asylum in democratic countries were denied.

In my opinion, my grandfather fought as bravely as any Allied Soldier on a battlefield. 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 my grandfather into our home in the United States. We felt tremendously frustrated. We were so happy when we could spend time with him in Europe whenever he could get a temporary visa from East Germany (GDR).

Even when he was on the run from The Third Reich, my grandfather remained close to his family, especially my father, Tom. I have many postcards, letters, and books that are signed with loving messages to “Tömsel” and my dear ‘Sohn.’

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 John J Heartfield Collection in the HIS LIFE section of the exhibition.

My grandfather suffered two great injustices in his lifetime.

The first was three internments in English camps for enemy aliens after he was forced to flee Czechoslovakia one step ahead of the Nazis in 1938. His health greatly deteriorated in those camps. Photos of him afterwards clearly show his gaunt pale appearance. He had difficulty earning a living. He considered attending a welding trade school to make ends meet.

The second injustice was when he was forced by politics and financial necessity to return East Germany in 1950. His brother, Wieland, was already there and had assured him he would be well treated. Instead, my grandfather narrowly escaped being tried for treason against the state. He came under suspicion by the Stasi, the brutal GDR secret police, because of the length of time he had lived in England. In addition, his dentist was under suspicion.

John Heartfield 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. He suffered heart attacks. The official neglect likely shortened his life.

Shortly before his death, one morning before he left for an exhibition in Czechoslovakia on a temporary visa, John Heartfield executed a minimalist will with his wife, Gertud. The will made no mention of anyone but Gertrud. There was no mention of his beloved son, Tom, his brother, Wieland, or his daughter, Eva. Essentially, it was a document that turned over everything he had, including all personal possessions, to East Germany.

He was admitted to GDR Akademie der Künste in 1956 only after his great friends, Bertoldt Brecht and Stefan Heym, intervened on his behalf.

Before her death, Gertrud executed an agreement that placed all of my grandfather's surviving art in the Heartfield Archiv, Akademie der Künste in East Berlin. To this day, I continue working to convince the Heartfield Archiv, Akademie der Künste to allow a greater distribution of John Heartfield's artistic legacy: His book covers, his AIZ art, his sketches and drawing, his models and designs for the German theater, and so much more. It's an ongoing endeavor.



Because of his ill health before he died, did John Heartfield have any physical or mental changes or any extraordinary behavior?

My Response

This is a strange question. My grandfather exhibited “extraordinary behavior” every day of his life. My grandfather's commitment 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. He produced an astonishing 240 AIZ covers over a period of eight years (1930-1938). These covers were an cohesive, almost operatic, indictment of the Third Reich. The AIZ covers were an accomplishment of political art that has never been reproduced.

If you want 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 my grandfather wrote to my father on the inside of a book cover in 1967, one year before the artist'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]

John Heartfield Book Inscription 1967

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.



Can you please describe John Heartfield in his final years? What was the excited character who challenged the politicians of WWII with his sarcastic montages like after everything settled down in the 1960s?

My Response

My grandfather didn't believe everything settled down in the 1960s. He remained vocal about what he considered insane political views and actions up to his final days. Although he was much less prolific, he executed montages that warned of the dangers of the atomic arms race.

My grandfather was always, above all, a pacifist. To my knowledge, he never advocated violent revolution.

In Italy, my father warned me to ‘be careful who was listening’ when I was talking with grandpa. Still, from my private conversations with him, I knew his personal view of communism had changed later in life. In his early years, like so many artists of every kind, 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 was horrified that the reality of communism did not resemble the naïve idealistic political dreams of his youth.

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). His health deteriorated. He was unable to work as an artist. It was only through the intervention of Bertoldt Brecht and Stefan Heym that John Heartfield was formally admitted to the East German Akademie der Künste (Academy of the Arts) in 1956.



Quoting a book(?): “In 1968, after revisiting London, [Heartfield] had a third heart attack and died. His brother published a vivid, if slightly doctored, account of his life and work, survived him by twenty years.” True?

My Response

It would be helpful to provite specific sources when visitors ask questions. Thank you.

My grandfather passed away in 1968 from a heart attack. He had visited Richard Carline in London in 1967. Wieland Herzfelde died November 23, 1988. The brothers lived for several year in adjoining apartments on the Friedrichstasse in East Berlin.

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 my grandfather'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 grandfather's widow, Gertrud Heartfield, living under the repressive and dangerous East German Regime. 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?

For years after my grandfather's death, Tutti was granted special priveledges to travel to democratic countries such as England to collect John Heartfield's art and bring it back into East Germany.

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 John Heartfield's art at any point, the 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.


What happened to your grandfather’s mother, Alice Stolzenberg. Do you have any information about where she was until her death in 1911 or where she lived?

My Response

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, my grandfather's mother and father suffered from mental disorders of varying severity.



I'd like information about your grandmother, Helene Balzer, your father Tom, your cousin George, etc. Can you make a family tree starting from Franz Herzfeld and Alice Stolzenberg?

My Response

A 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 social media 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 until he passed away.



Do you have favorites out of all of your grandfather’s creations?

My Response

Four photomontages come to mind.

Hitler Swallows Gold and spits Junk is a masterpiece with an eternal message. Those in power often spew hatred simply because of the compensation it brings them.

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 an 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, There Is No Butter Left! 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, There Is No Butter Left!" in her successful PhD thesis entitled The Politics of the Table: Nutrition and the Telescopic Body in Saxon Germany, 1890-1935.

In 2016, I became obsessed with The Bourgeois Media Will Make You Deaf And Blind: Rip Away The Bandages!

What piece of political art could be more relevant to the 2016 United States Presidential Election?



Do you have any special objects, possessions, etc., that remind you of your grandfather?

My Response

Yes. I have a wonderful collection of my grandfather's personal photographs, cameras, letters, postcards, videos, and even a bronze medal. For clarity, I've named this collection, The John J Heartfield Collection

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 in a secure temperature controlled facility. One of the reasons I'm asking for contributions is to be able to have the entire collection professionally catalogued and digitized.

As I have these objects digitized, I'll add them to the Official John Heartfield Exhibition & Archive.

Eventually, I intend is to donate the entire collection to a major art research institute.

Recently, I asked the Akademie der Künste in Berlin to supply me with photographs of John Heartfield’s maquettes (the originals from which the reproductions were produced). In a letter to me this March (2014), they refused to provide me with anything. I'm not sure why because I've since discovered there's appears to be a process to request such photographs. I've recently visited Berlin and I'm attempting to work with the new director of the Heartfield Archiv, Akademie der Künste, to be able to make more of John Heartfield's vast collection of art available to the public as John Heartfield would have wanted. Our negotiations are ongoing. Keep visiting the exhibition and our social media sites for updates.

I can say that I remain astonished that, although the Akademie der Künste is aware of my collection, they have expressed no interest in it whatsoever.



Do you think that John Heartfield’s works are still disturbing some people? Have you witnessed any reactions to his work from Neo-Nazis or the Ku Klux Klan?

My Response

My grandfather did not risk his life and create his political montages to disturb personalities such as Adolf Hitler, Herman Göring, and Benito Mussolini.

His goal was to expose their insane philosophies. He wanted to point out their hypocrisy to as many reasonable people as possible.

His photomontages were a jolt to the senses that attacked their dangerous and disgusting political propaganda. His genius was that he was able to do that with humor, using their own words against them. He excelled at image juxtaposition. His visual sensibility was brilliant.

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 Heartfield montages such as Hitler Swallows Gold and spits Junk.

Without referring to a specific group or personality, it's 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 American politicians the unbridled ability to swallow gold and spit junk.



From Heartfield’s death in 1968 until the 1993 MOMA exhibition there were no major exhibitions. After the fall of the Berlin wall, Germany was more open. Please comment on Heartfield Exhibitions, in East & West Germany.

My Response

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.

1968 London
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
1971 Moskau
1974 Paris
1975 Eindhoven, Netherlands
1976 Berlin/West, Elefantenpress
1976 Skopje, Macedonia
1977 Oldenburg, Elefantenpress C.v.Ossietzky-University
1977 London
1978 Venice, Italy
1978 Zürich, Switzerland (Kunstgewerbemuseum )
1979 Berlin/West, Haus am Lützow-Platz
1980 London
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 tell me 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 art in New York) who say they’ve never heard of John Heartfield.

For many years, I disagreed with the policies of the Heartfield Archiv, Akademie der Künste. These policies directly minimize my grandfather's recognition and renown. However, in 2008, I made an effort to ignore the past. I hoped to develop a productive relationship with the Heartfield Archiv, Akademie der Künste.

In 1992, I had visited the Heartfield Archive in East Berlin for three days after the Berlin Wall came down. I was stunned at the sheer amount of John Heartfield art stored there. There are scores of pieces of original art, including models of Heartfield's stage sets and sketches for famous playwrights.

Since then, I've made formal requests (most recently in an email dated April, 2014) to the Heartfield Archiv, Akademie der Künste to provide me with photographs of that incredible Heartfield art. This March, 2014, I received an unconditional refusal from the archive's former director citing reasons that were clearly uninformed and invalid.

In Nov. 2016, I visited the Heartfield Archiv in Berlin again. I do sense a change. However, there are still issues that must to be negotiated so that the art stored in the archive can be available to everyone as my grandfather would have wanted. This art is not a possession of the Heartfield Archiv, Akademie der Künste, to be guarded. It is a great artist's legacy to be shared with the world. My grandfather risked his life so his art would appear on street corner of Nazi Germany.

When the Heartfield Archiv, Akademie der Künste tells me their policies are rooted in ‘tradition,’ it disappoints and saddens me. I knew my grandfather so well. These policies would would anger and sicken him. The distribution of his art, the message contained within them, was what John Heartfield sacrificed for, risked his life for, and strived for his entire life. The idea that any part of his work would be held in a government institution where only those with geographic proximity could see and study it would sicken him.

He would drag into the light this blatant injustice. For his legacy, I shall do the same.

I will continue his struggle until The John Heartfield Exhibition & Archive becomes a hub people around the world who believe ‘a picture is worth a thousand words.’



Are you aware interview with or about your grandfather that we could find on Internet and use?

My Response

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 YouTube. This is another goal I have for The Official John Heartfield Exhibition & Archive. I want to create a database of interviews and works by artists who are influenced by John Heartfield’s work.

One way to see many other 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.



The first major American exhibition of John Heartfield’s original pieces was in MOMA, 1993. Do you think American’s thoughts about Heartfield's work changed after that?

My Response

There was a Heartfield exhibition 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 all Americans regarding the 1993 MOMA exhibition. The MOMA Exhibition was critically hailed in newspapers such as The New York Times. You can browse through the 1993 MOMA catalog for this 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 my grandfather added to the his montages by hand, but also my grandfather's detailed notes to the rotogravure masters. There is always emotional connection to a piece of art that was touched by artist's own hand. Isn't that why pieces of art are displayed for the public?

I’ve asked the Akademie der Künste to provide me with high-resolution photos of the maquettes and other pieces of my grandfather's art stored in the Heartfield Archiv in Berlin so that everyone can enjoy them. To date, the Heartfield Archiv, Akademie der Künste, has refused my request for any high-resolution photographs unless I sign a restrictive contract stating I will not show my grandfather's work on social media sites!

I continue to struggle to comprehend these policies.



John Heartfield pioneered montage techniques used in so many areas of graphic arts and advertising. Did he receive academic honors? Awards? Support from anyone outside the family?

My Response

I’m very fond of this quote from my grandfather. 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 next to nothing to my grandfather. To believe that personal awards would be relevant to him would be to fundamentally misunderstand how he viewed the world.

However, if visitors are interested, 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. The brothers, John and Wieland, were extremely close. There’s a strong argument to be made that the work of John Heartfield would not have been possible without the support and collaboration of Wieland Herzfelde.

It must also be noted that without the courageous left-wing publisher Willi Münzenberg there would have not been an AIZ magazine. There would have been no outlet for my grandfather's astonishing output of 240 AIZ covers in the years from 1930-1938.

When I was in Berlin in November, 2016, I had an opportunity to visit the wonderful Montage_16 exhibition at the Münzenberg Forum on the Franz-Mehring-Platz. The Dr. Mathias Schindler and his staff put together a dazzling show, including a faithfully reconstructed version of the room in The First International Dada Fair in 1920. Look for a section in this exhibition highlighting this exciting achievement.

John and Wieland also shared a 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]

Heartfield and Herzfelde Book Inscription, 1962

My father, Tom George Heartfield, emotionally and financially supported my grandfather. My father sent as much money to him as he was able to, as often as he was able to do so. When my grandfather's widow, Gertrud Heartfield, wrote to my father in New York and requested that he return original pieces of my grandfather's art that was stored in our house in Queens, my father told me he did so without hesitation.

Perhaps, if not for my father’s loyalty to Gertrud and his concern for her safety, 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.