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  • From: 13 february 2021
  • Through: 30 may 2021
  • Location: Museum de Fundatie

John Heartfield - PHOTOGRAPHY PLUS DYNAMITE

From 13 February to 30 May 2021 Museum de Fundatie will host a major retrospective of the work of John Heartfield (1891-1968). His highly powerful idiom combined with the platform he was given made him an ‘influencer avant la lettre’. In his photocollages Heartfield set out to mobilise the general public against fascism and war, and one of the ways he did so was through the covers he designed for the publication Arbeiter Illustrierte Zeitung (AIZ). John Heartfield – Photography plus Dynamite will be produced in collaboration with the Akademie der Künste in Berlin.John Heartfield, Benütze Foto als Waffe! (Use Photo as a Weapon!), 1929 © The Heartfield Community of Heirs / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2020 Akademie der Künste, Berlin.

Heartfield’s work is more relevant than ever today, in an age when influencers, fake news, populism and hatemongering on social media have cast our communications in a different light. It has not lost any of its potency in the intervening years. His visual manipulations are brimming with satire, criticism and propaganda. Shortly after the First World War he became a member of the KPD, the German communist party. His ability to shock was innate and in the Weimar Republic, working for the KPD, he managed to develop an incredibly powerful propaganda language. Looking at Heartfield’s work today we see both a talented member of the artistic avant-garde and an artist who took a partisan position in the political debate and engaged in a vigorous propaganda effort. 

John Heartfield, born Helmut Herzfelde in 1891 in Berlin, was one of the founders of Berlin’s dada movement, along with George Grosz. The tabula rasa brought about by the First World War and the moral bankruptcy of Europe prompted the anarchism of dada, and the German branch of this Europe-wide movement quickly embraced communism. Heartfield’s artistic collaboration with Grosz led in 1916 to the advent of photomontage, which they claimed to have invented: the combination of fragments of photographs in such a way as to create a new meaning. This served initially as a typically dadaist means to provoke and shock, but in the 1920s Heartfield developed it into a highly effective means of propaganda, wielding his scissors as a weapon in the class struggle. Heartfield produced his best work in his photomontages, which featured on the cover of the AIZ from 1930 onwards. The weekly magazine challenged the information monopoly of the ubiquitous bourgeois press and, from 1933 onwards, the national socialists. Heartfield’s photomontages therefore reached a mass audience. 

John Heartfield, Bürger Schippel (Citizen Schippel), 1955 © The Heartfield Community of Heirs / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2020 Akademie der Künste, Berlin.

Heartfield’s work delicately balances between autonomous art and engagement. It shows how images can convincingly convey political statements, while its great originality and aestheticism make it endlessly fascinating. His work is like dynamite, destroying and breaking open to clear space. We can still hear the echoes of the explosions he caused, for Heartfield not only had a major influence on the idiom of art in his day. The retouching, cutting and pasting that were part of his artistic practice are an essential element of Photoshop as used in the mass media today. 

Many artists were influenced by Heartfield during the political activism of the 1960s, 70s and 80s. Museum de Fundatie wants to introduce a new generation of artists to Heartfield’s work, and prompt them to play with the propaganda potential of art – something that is as old as art itself, but which, since the age of romanticism, has had to compete with autonomous art. Museum de Fundatie believes that art has an important role to play in tackling today’s social challenges, and Heartfield can offer inspiration. The museum is collaborating on this project with Utrecht School of the Arts and ArtEZ University of the Arts in order to encourage young makers to produce ideological art using cutting-edge visual technology. Heartfield at De Fundatie will become a platform for discussion, generating new images and ideas. The exhibition will be timed perfectly to coincide with the general election in the Netherlands on 17 March 2021. 

John Heartfield, Deutschland, Deutschland über alles, 1929 © The Heartfield Community of Heirs / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2020 Akademie der Künste, Berlin.

This will be a large exhibition. We will be showing Heartfield’s entire body of work, from book covers and political advertisements to set designs, photography and animated films. Some of the works will be on display for the first time, including printed matter, drawings and artefacts from East Asia that served as inspiration for his work. This is a tale of great personal courage and a man with a prodigious talent for depicting things that his contemporaries could not even begin to imagine. 

John Heartfield – Photography plus Dynamite is a perfect addition to the series of exhibitions at Museum de Fundatie about the interbellum and the GDR, including ‘Dancing on the Volcano – Art and Life in the Weimar Republic’ (2013) and the retrospectives of the work of Werner Tübke and Wolfgang Mattheuer (2017), who along with Bernhard Heisig founded the New Leipzig School.

John Heartfield, Werkzeug in Gottes Hand? Spielzeug in Thyssens Hand! (Tool in God's Hand? Toy in Thyssen's Hand!), 1933 © The Heartfield Community of Heirs / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2020 Akademie der Künste, Berlin.

John Heartfield, 5 Finger hat die Hand. Mit 5 packst Du den Feind. Wählt Liste 5. Kommunistische Partei! (5 Fingers Has the Hand. With 5 You Seize the Enemy. Vote for List Number 5: the Communist Party!), 1928 © The Heartfield Community of Heirs / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2020 Akademie der Künste, Berlin.

This exhibition realized thanks to a contribution of: 

Photo header: John Heartfield, Krieg und Leichen – Die letzte Hoffnung der Reichen (War and Corpses – The Last Hope of the Rich), 1932 © The Heartfield Community of Heirs / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2020 Akademie der Künste, Berlin.


  • From: 13 Feb 2021
  • Through: 30 May 2021
  • Location: Museum de Fundatie