Cut with the Kitchen Knife

The Weimar Photomontages of Hannah Höch

Maud Lavin

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The women of Weimar Germany had an uneasy alliance with modernity: while they experienced cultural liberation after World War I, these "New Women" still faced restrictions in their earning power, political participation, and reproductive freedom. Images of women in newspapers, films, magazines, and fine art of the 1920s reflected their ambiguous social role, for the women who were pictured working in factories, wearing androgynous fashions, or enjoying urban nightlife seemed to be at once empowered and ornamental, both consumers and products of the new culture. In this book Maud Lavin investigates the multi-layered social construction of femininity in the mass culture of Weimar Germany, focusing on the intriguing photomontages of the avant-garde artist Hannah Höch.

Höch, a member of the Berlin Dada group, was recognized as one of the most innovative practitioners of photomontage. In such works as Dada-Ernst and Cut with the Kitchen Knife, she reconstructed the wonderfully seductive mass media images of the New Woman with their appeal intact but with their contours fractured in order to expose the contradictions of the new female stereotypes. Her photomontages exhibit a disturbing tension between pleasure and anger, confidence and anxiety. In Weimar—as today—says Lavin, the representation of women in the mass media took on a political meaning when it challenged the distribution of power in society. Höch's work provides important evidence of the necessity for women to shape the production and reception of the images that redefine their role.

Maud Lavin teaches cultural studies and criticism in New York University's Department of Art.

"A work of great range, vitality, and originality. Lavin's remarkable study is itself a kind of montage, juxtaposing feminist concerns of the present with changing concepts of the feminine role in the past, focusing on the simultaneous expression of rage and pleasure in Höch's work, intercutting Dada revolt with the more affirmative vision of the mass media. Unabashedly personal yet rich in historical data and insights, Cut with the Kitchen Knife sheds new light on both Höch and the complex fabric of Weimar culture."—Linda Nochlin

"Histories, sexualities and representations both congeal and disperse under Lavin's rigorously generous gaze. Her considerations of how images construct and are constructed by culture are a significant addition to the study of pictures and their powers."—Barbara Kruger

"Whimsical, ironic, celebratory. . . . This study presents Höch as a utopian whose potentially liberating fantasies transform anger into feminine pleasure and protest."—Publishers Weekly

"Art historian Maud Lavin's handsome, thorough, and partisan [book] goes a long way toward restoring one of our most underrated artists to her rightful place in the corpus modernus."—Peter Plagens, Newsweek

"In her monograph on Höch, Lavin draws particular attention to the feminist intentions of Höch's work and its celebration of the emergence of the 'New Women.' . . . Although today it requires scholarship to identify figures who would have been instantly recognized in 1920, the allegorical well as the wit and mischief of Höch's artistic personality, certainly come through. . . . The first comprehensive view [of Höch]."—Arthur Danto, Harper's Bazaar

"Lavin's thorough research and insightful analysis adds greatly to an understanding of Höch's work in itself and as an expression and reflection of values and concerns of her time period."—Choice

"Hannah Höch's remarkable photomontages have force de frappe. . . . Maud Lavin, in her brilliant text, analyzes in detail Höch's outstanding works and recreates the many-layered history of women in general and Höch in particular during the Weimar Republic. . . . Lavin's original historical and theoretical ideas can't be summed up briefly. The book must be read and pondered."—Marian Parry, Radcliffe Quarterly

"Maud Lavin has written a valuable study that introduces Höch's art to an English-speaking audience and, of significance for historians, analyzes her work in relation to the mass-media representations of the New Woman of the 1920s. . . . Lavin opens a window onto the nascent mass culture of the period. . . . [The] illustrations are so well integrated into the text that her argument is virtually made visible. . . . Her fluid, readable text weaves sensitive readings of individual works into an analytical and historical framework that serves to illuminate both the works and the historical period."—Beth Irwin Lewis, American Historical Review

"This study of Hannah Hoch is both personal and scholarly and offers new insights into the work of an original talent."—Francis Pole, Magill Book Reviews

 "Cut With a Kitchen Knife is a gem of a book looking at history not as sacrifice or inheritance, but as personal struggle. . . . Lavin looks back in order to set our compass on a human figure that celebrates disorder and compassion, and brings history back to the truth about our lives."—Mark Wagner, Boston Book Review

"This is a beautifully produced book, which includes a wealth of images from the illustrated press as well as stunning reproductions of Höch's work."—Patrice Petro, Art in America

"An original , insightful and provocative book which casts a huge amount of fresh light on an under-valued visual artist."—Richard Sheppard, Journal of European Studies

"Lavin's readings of Höch's photomontages are contentious, stimulating, and ultimately very compelling. Indeed, this book suggests an approach to analysing images of women which could be applied, perhaps with some adjustments but with equal effectiveness, to other cultures and other periods — particularly our own."—Christina Lodder, Slavonic Review

"The impact of Höch's art can finally be seen, thanks to Lavin's cogent analysis. This modestly priced book is an invaluable resource, with beautiful color and black and white illustrations. It belongs in every serious feminist's library."—Cassandra Langer, Women Artists News

Winner of an Art Libraries Society of North America's 1993 George Wittenborn Memorial Book Award
ISBN: 9780300061642
Publication Date: March 31, 1993
278 pages, 7 1/4 x 10
158 b/w + 20 color illus.