John Heartfield's (1891–1968) political photomontages provided the initial spark for an effective means of using visual rhetoric – creating powerful images whose impact can still be palpably felt. Heartfield attempted to mobilise a wide audience against Fascism and war through strategies meant to enlighten. As his friend the art critic Adolf Behne so aptly put it in 1931, Heartfield's photomontages seemed like "photography plus dynamite".
Right-wing thought and actions now pose a genuine threat once again, lending Heartfield's works an unsettling topicality. The exhibition shows the many facets of Heartfield's art, ranging from book design and advertising to work for the political press, set design, photography and animated film. It delves into Heartfield's methods for using powerful imagery in very different contexts and elucidates his production processes – from template materials to his pasted and retouched original montages, photographic intermediate stages and text montage embedded into the images, to the manifoldly reproduced end products in their printed editions.
Previously largely unknown works and documents make Heartfield's complex field of reference visible. During his life, which was marked by persecution and exile, Heartfield had close connections to important contemporaries, including Bertolt Brecht, George Grosz, Wieland Herzfelde and Erwin Piscator. The exhibition builds on the reworking and digitalisation of Heartfield's estate and an assessment of materials from diverse archival departments at Akademie der Künste, which can also be viewed in an online presentation.
The exhibition is enhanced by a number of works that are being shown for the first time, including some of Heartfield's preliminary designs, travel sketches, photos and film documents, as well as previously unknown sources of inspiration from his graphic and East Asian collections.
© Akademie der Künste