hoch, pretty maiden, 1920

 

Hannah Hoch’s piece Das Schone Madchen/The Beautiful Girl is a photomontage that deals with gender issues amidst the dawning of Germany’s New Woman. Hoch uses clippings of car parts from advertisements and female figures from magazines to create a juxtaposition between industrialization and perceptions of the role of women in a modernizing society.  The idealized version of the New Woman was conflicted with the reality of the situations and experiences of real women in Germany, and Hoch makes a point to emphasis this problematic phenomenon.

The Beautiful Girl is created upon a discolored tan background that gives the effect of antique parchment paper, with all the edges left blank and exposed and the montage of photos built up upon each other in the center. The focus of this collage is the center image of a decapitated woman in a bathing suit with a parasol. Her head is replaced with a light bulb and on top of that an oversized cut out of a modern women’s hairstyle. To the left of this decapitated figure is a tire with what appears to be a boxer emerging through it. To the right of the figure are mechanical car parts, an outstretched hand dangling a pocket watch and the head of a woman with her eyes removed and distorted. Present throughout this piece is a repetition of BMW logos peeking through the spaces between images. On first impression this piece forces a comparison between superficial female progressive trends and rapid industrial progress.

To understand the context of this piece, one must look at Germany in the time the piece was created, around 1920. After World War I, Germany was in a tense transitional state and dealing with economic issues such as inflation and increasing unemployment. The WeimerRepublic brought about political progress for women in Germany by granting new rights, such as the right to vote and the right to equal pay.[1] But, due to the chaotic economic situation, women were struggling to get by and keep their families fed so they could not fully enjoy or take advantage of their new rights.

This active atmosphere of change in Germany affected all facets of German culture, even the realm of sexual identity for the modern woman. The New Woman was advertised as a freethinking, independent, socially, and sexually progressive kind of female.[2] Examples of this ideal are presented in The Beautiful Girl, for example the short modern hairstyle and the thigh revealing bathing suit. Hoch does not present these features in a glorifying or idealized way, but rather in a way that seems to point out the superficiality of trend and cultural ideas of beauty. She does this because the reality for German women did not truly reflect the ideal of the new woman.[3] Women were dealing with a false sense of equality in a male dominated and unstable society.

One of the more striking features of this piece is the use of the BMW logo repeated in the background throughout. A sea of automobile parts contrasts the female depictions, which emphasizes the importance put on the automobile industry to boost Germany’s desperate economy.[4] The automobile references could also be seen as masculine features symbolizing the frustration that Hoch and other women felt about the hypocrisies within their male focused society. Industrialization was seen as directly related to the new modern era along with the featured characteristics of the new modern woman.  Some additional industrial clues within the montage are the pocket watch in the upper right corner and the light bulb in the middle that replaces the head of the bathing suit-clad body.

Hannah Hoch often cuts the eyes out of the images used in her photomontages, distorts the faces, or in the case of The Beautiful Girl, removes the face completely. The removal of eyes creates a disconcerting feeling for the viewer and takes away from the relatable human qualities of a face, isolating the viewer from the subject. The entire removal of the face represents the confusion of role and identity that females of the time felt.[5] Without eyes that are seen as mirrors of an individual’s soul and without a face that identifies an individual and expresses her natural human emotions, the females in Hoch’s pieces are left as nothing more than superficial exteriors.

Hannah Hoch was a female artist taking part in a movement that was completely made up of males within a society that was entirely run by males and this unique situation makes her perspective very poignant. Her intention for her art was not to depress, but to cleverly raise social consciousness. From her relevant subject matter to her use of the cutting edge media form of photomontage, this goal is clearly achieved. The feeling taken away from The Beautiful Girl is a somewhat cautious observation of the possibilities, both good and bad, for the future of German women as well as for the future of the entire country.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY

 

 

 

 

 

Johnson, James, Godfre Leung, Lara Mazurski, and Jessica McDonald. “Book Reviews.”

In Visible CUlture. no. 16 (2011): 108. http://www.rochester.edu/in_visible_culture/Issue_16/pdfs/leung_review.pdf (accessed March 21, 2012).

 

Kirkup, Gill. The Gendered Cyborg: A Reader. New York, NY: Taylor and Francis

Group, 2000.

 

 

Smith, Allison. “Exhausting Work: The Struggle for Women’s Emancipation and

Autonomy in the Literature of the WeimarRepublic.” PhD diss., Green

BowlingStateUniversity, 2007.

 

 

 


[1] Allison Smith, “Exhausting Work: The Struggle for Women’s Emancipation and Autonomy in the Literature of the Weimar Republic” (PhD diss., Green Bowling State University, 2007).

http://etd.ohiolink.edu/send-pdf.cgi/Smith%20Allison.pdf?bgsu1177605600

[2] Smith, “Exhausting Work”

 

[3] Ibid

[4] James Johnson, Godfre Leung, Lara Mazurski, and Jessica McDonald, “Book Reviews,” Visible Culture, no. 16 (2011): 108,

http://www.rochester.edu/in_visible_culture/Issue_16/pdfs/leung_review.pdf (accessed March 21, 2012).

[5] Gill Kirkup, The Gendered Cyborg: A Reader, (New York, NY: Taylor and Francis Group, 2000), 60-63.

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