Grey Room

Global Patterns: Hannah Höch, Interwar Abstraction, and the Weimar Inflation Crisis

Max Boersma

Hannah Höch. Von zarten Dingen (Of Delicate Things), dated 1919 and 1925, most likely ca. 1924–1925. Art Institute of Chicago, gift of Dorothy Braude Edinburg to the Harry B. and Bessie K. Braude Memorial Collection. © 2022 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn.


Restless, aleatory, and quietly discordant, Hannah Höch’s Von zarten Dingen (Of Delicate Things; dated 1919 and 1925, most likely ca. 1924–1925) is collage preoccupied with craft and its reproducibility, but also with abstraction—its limits and exclusions and, in spite of them, its possibilities. Von zarten Dingen speaks of these issues through its forms and materials and, above all, through its making, which deviates as much from the standard procedures of craft as those of interwar abstract art. The modestly scaled work—only slightly larger than seven by five inches—is one of a loosely defined series of at least fifteen abstract collages that the artist produced from materials obtained at her part-time job at Ullstein & Co., the largest publishing firm in Weimar Germany. The work’s seemingly free-flowing lines were extracted from a commercial embroidery design, its black-and-white grids from a needlepoint pattern, and its fibrous textures from reproductions of lace. Among European modernism’s diverse engagements with textiles, Höch’s series is distinct for submitting mass-produced sewing, embroidery, and lace patterns themselves to aesthetic scrutiny. Employing scissors and glue rather than needle and thread, her treatment of the objects willfully scrambles technical codes, suspending and disarticulating the mobile, ephemeral, and functional paper sheets. The collages at once call attention to these archetypes of feminized domestic creativity, while compelling them to perform a different kind of cultural work.