John Heartfield

Heartfield’s political photomontages with a staunch anti-war and anti-Nazi message were published on the cover of the workers’ magazine Arbeiter-Illustrierte-Zeitung, released between 1929 and 1938. Its print run reached 500,000 copies, making AIZ one of the most popular magazines in interwar Germany. Some of the covers were reproduced as posters and pasted up on the streets of Berlin in response to Goebbels’ ubiquitous Nazi propaganda. Heartfield merged avant-garde formal experimentation with trenchant political satire. He shunned the “originality” and uniqueness of artwork, taking an interest instead in the possibility of mass reproduction and reaching the broad working-class masses who were supposed to usher in social and political change. As the art historian Sabine Kriebel wrote: “Heartfield’s photomontage not only gives the social fascist a face but also thematizes the fight against him…. In the form of popular politics, the righteous photomonteur Heartfield dispenses justice on behalf of the radical Left, avenging the dead, injured, imprisoned, and politically dispossessed….” His works delivered not only a political critique, but also an example of a pioneering deconstruction of the culture of the era. Laying bare the seeming transparency of such media as film and press photography, he highlighted their impact on shaping stances and the duty of the artist to actively participate in disclosing manipulations and shaping a new critical imagination of viewers.

John Heartfield (real name Helmut Herzfeld, b. 1891 in Berlin, d. 1968 in East Berlin) – painter and graphic artist who gained renown primarily as a creator of mass art engaged in the political struggle with fascism. He was a participant of the Berlin Dada movement and a close collaborator of George Grosz. A member of the Communist Party of Germany, after Hitler’s ascent to power he emigrated to Czechoslovakia and later to Great Britain. He settled in East Germany after World War II.

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