John Heartfield vs. Nazi Germany

Fred and Laura Ruth Bidwell Gallery

“Use photography as a weapon.” This was John Heartfield’s battle cry in his struggle to prevent the Nazis from gaining power in Germany in the 1930s. Unlike many socially conscious photographers of the era who produced documentary work, Heartfield created photomontages. They are composite images made by cutting and joining parts from several photographs (ones he took, commissioned or found), then re-photographed to form a single seamless image. Heartfield’s photomontages were satirical commentaries that attacked fascism and the Nazi regime. They quickly gained an international audience when the artist was hired by AIZ (Arbeiter-Illustrierte Zeitung or Workers’ Illustrated Paper), one of a plethora of illustrated tabloids in Germany in the late 1920s and 1930s. Heartfield regarded the printed magazine page, which was a photogravure, as his finished work of art. This exhibition presents over 40 of Heartfield’s photogravures from AIZ along with issues of the magazine, which provide the original context for the artworks. All these objects come from the collection of the Akron Art Museum, which is one of only three art museums in the United States to possess substantial holdings of Heartfield’s art. Although the Heartfields were acquired by the museum between 1979 and 1981, this is the first time all have been on view together. Most were too fragile to be handled, let alone displayed, due to the age and quality of the paper. Thanks to a grant from the U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services and additional funding from The Mary and Louis S. Myers Foundation, we were able to have all of the works treated in 2005-2006 at Cleveland’s Intermuseum Conservation Association. The bite of Heartfield’s images remains sharp. While the countries, names and faces may have changed, many of the abuses of power lampooned in his images still occur around the world today. This exhibition has been made possible by generous gifts from Dianne Newman and the Lippman Kanfer Family Foundation. Conservation of the Heartfield photogravures was made possible by a grant from the U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services with additional funding from the Mary and Louis S. Myers Foundation.