“After a telephone call from your brother John Heartfield, I was trying to clearify the question of the copyright of the work of John Heartfield, whose archive – after dissolution of the former Akademie Der Künste der DDR – is belonging since 1st May to our Akademie Der Künste (West). Yesterday, I spoke with the president of our Akademie, Prof. Walter Jens, so that I now can officially confirm, that the Akademie Der Künste does not claim the Verwertungsrcrechte (copyrights) of the works of John Heartfield.
The Verwertungsrcrechte (copyright) are in the possession of the community of heirs […]”
Dr. Wolfgang Trautwein, Archiv direktor In A Letter To John J Heartfield's Sister, Catherine Jacobson, July 9, 1993
Dr. Wolfgang Trautwein, Archiv direktor In A Letter To John J Heartfield's Sister, Catherine Jacobson, July 9, 1993

The John Heartfield Heartfield MoMA Exhibition Of Original Art Was A Triumph That Almost Did Not Happen, 1993

In 1993, the first major international exhibition of John Heartfield’s original art tours Europe and the United States. It ends in New York. Heartfield’s masterpieces of antifascist anti-Nazi art occupy half of the second floor of the world-famous Museumf Modern Art (MoMA). The space is barely large enough to hold the crowd who have their first opportunity to view close-up the magnificent work John Heartfield created with his own hands. Art critics, including The New York Times, unanimously agree John Heartfield is a modern art genius.

A stunning sequence of events precedes the MoMa exhibition. It was in danger of being cancelled days before it was scheduled to open. MoMA is one of the premier art museums in America. The MOMA director in charge of mounting the Heartfield exhibition was shocked and insulted when, at the last minute, Wolfgang Trautwein of the Heartfield Archiv,  Akademie Der Künste, Berlin, questions MoMA’s competence to care for the art in the way he believes is proper. The following is an excerpt from a letter written by Wolfgang Trautwein on August 24, 1990:

“After the discussions with the MOMA New York, I continued to urge the Museum of Modern Art San Francisco, where the [Heartfield] exhibition is at the moment, to guarantee the utmost best conservatory conditions, even threatening to retire the works, if this is not done.”

The John Heartfield Exhibition curator, John J Heartfield, wishes to express his gratitude to the brilliant Magdalena Dubrowski. Ms. Dubrowski was the Director of MOMA’s Department of Drawings in 1993. She consulted with the curator of this exhibition. It was her expertise, devotion, and patience that made the 1993 MoMA John Heartfield Exhibition reality and a huge success.

Wolfgang Trautwein oversaw the unification of the German and East German Academies of Art into a single institution. There was absolutely no notice or consideration regarding John Heartfield’s art given to the heirs of John Heartfield. In East Germany, all possessions, regardless of any private documents or agreements, belonged to the state. It is ironic West German absorbed Heartfield’s art legacy with similar principles to a communist state. The Heartfield Archive, East German Academy of Art, simply became the Heartfield Archive, Academy of Art (Heartfield Archiv, Akademie Der Künste) in the united Germany.

The Federal States of Berlin and Brandenburg supported the unification. The Akademie der Künste’s new constitution is the work of the two Presidents:  Heiner Müller (East) and Walter Jens (West). In 1994, Walter Jens became the first president of the united Akademie der Künste.

There were some wrinkles. From 1969 – 1993, the Akademie Der Künste claimed copyright permission, approved copyrights, required copyright acknowledgment, and collected copyright fees for reproductions of John Heartfield’s art. The Akademie Der Künste knew of John Heartfield’s heirs. Any competent archive director should have known of enough European copyright law to know that copyrights to an artist’s work always remain with the legal heirs of the artist. However, this copyright notation on the major catalogue books John Heartfield, published in conjunction with the 1993 worldwide John Heartfield exhibition show the Akademie der Künste claimed copyright permission to John Heartfield’s art.  Therefore, the Akademie der Künste had to be unaware of or unconcerned with European copyright law regarding John Heartfield’s art.

© für das Werk John Heartfields, Akademie der Künste zu Berlin, vertreten durch VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 1991
(Copyright for the works of John Heartfield, Akademie der Künste zu Berlin, represented by VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 1991)

John Heartfield American heirs, John J Heartfield and his sister, Catherine Jacobson, hired attorneys to challenge the many years of copyright violations by the Akademie der Künste

The quote above shows that in 1993 Wolfgang Trautwein, director of the Heartfield Archiv, Akademie der Künste, finally concedes that copyright permission for John Heartfield’s work does not belong to the Akademie Der Künste.

It is almost comical that Wolfgang Trautwein’s letter states that only a brief conversation with the president of the Akademie der Künste was enough to make it clear “that the Akademie Der Künste does not claim the Verwertungsrcrechte (copyright) of the works of John Heartfield.” In his letter to Heartfield’s rightful heirs, Wolfgang Trautwein offered no apology, reason, or justification for the years of violation of international copyright laws.

The curator, John J Heartfield, can now approve copyright requests for your project. He is happy to do so. Professor Heartfield wants to see his grandfather’s art against fascism and war in as many venues as possible. Therefore, the copyright approval process is simple and quick. Please CLICK THE COPYRIGHT ICON – TOP RIGHT to learn more about displaying John Heartfield’s art.

In April, 2014, it is the same Wolfgang Trautwein who categorically refuses John J Heartfield’s request for photographs or scans of his grandfather’s original art held inside the John Heartfield Archive. One reason he gives for this refusal is that Professor Heartfield does not have copyright permission to reproduce his grandfather’s art!

Negotiating for photographs and scans of John Heartfield’s art continues with the new director of the Heartfield Archiv, Werner Heegevaldt. At the moment, the Heartfield Archiv will consider providing the curator, John J Heartfield, with some photographs or scans of his grandfather’s art provided he signs an agreement not to display them on social media! It is impossible to imagine a position that would be more opposed to John Heartfield’s desire to show his work in as many venues as possible. A desire for which the anti-fascist artist risked his life.

Please refer to the ever-growing section of this exhibition entitled Hidden Genius for a more information about Heartfield Archive and the Akademie Der Künste (Germany Academy of Art).

MOMA Exhibition, New York, 1993

John Heartfield Copyrights for 1993 MOMA Exhibition Catalog

Professor John J Heartfield is John Heartfield’s paternal grandson. He gives live interactive presentations around the world that focus on his grandfather’s life and work and modern political art. Please write to him to request his presence at your event or ask any question. He is always pleased to hear from exhibition visitors.

Dada Political Artist John Heartfield grandson, John Heartfield, Curator Official John Heartfield Exhibition