Raoul Hausmann, called the dadasophe, was one of the key founder’s of the Berlin Dada movement. He is responsible for many contributions to the group that cannot be reduced to a single medium. As a visual artist, he was a painter, drawer, sculptor, photographer, and photomontagist. He was also a poet, journalist, historian, theorist, writer, actor, and critic.1 In his publication Dadaistische Abrechnung, Hausmann proclaimed that, “Dada is not a movement; it is a new manner of living.”2 Indeed, for Raoul Hausmann, Dada was a conscious tactic of abolishing the prevailing bourgeois culture. He also vehemently opposed expressionism with its’ inward perspective and self-absorbed nature. Consequently, while his work encompasses many diverse mediums and modes, each piece is always engrained with the same principal, guiding sentiment of revolt.3 Ultimately, this state of steadfast revolution came to define Berlin Dada and left a profound mark on the European Avant-Garde in the aftermath of World War I.
Raoul Hausmann was born in Vienna where his father trained him as a traditional artist. In 1901, at the age of fourteen, Raoul moved to Berlin. At the time, he created his oldest known work, a self-portrait of the artist (Cat. 1).4 The medium of crayon and pastels clearly demonstrates the influence of his father, who was a painter and professional conservator, on the young Hausmann. However, the piece also takes a psychological approach to the subject that almost seems to foreshadow the qualities of his later work. In 1914, he completes his second self-portrait (Cat. 2).5 The thick, dramatic brushstrokes seem to convey the artist’s response to the imminence of the First World War. Hausmann places specific emphasis on the eyes, leaving a hallucinatory and anguished expression on his face. This piece demonstrates the artist’s momentary assimilation to the prevailing movement of German Expressionism.
Initially, like his expressionist colleagues, Hausmann supported the war effort; however, he sentiments would soon change as his contacts in Berlin widened. In 1915, he met Hannah Hoch which marked the beginning of an artistically turbulent relationship that would last until 1922. In 1916, he also met several important figures who would come to significantly influence his later ideas, including the psychoanalyst Otto Gross who advocated for psychoanalysis as a path to revolution and Franz Jung who penned a number of anarchist writings.6 This notion of destruction as means of creating anew became the fundamental theme of Hausmann and his work as the theoretical dadasophe.
By 1917, Raoul Hausmann had met John Heartfield, George Grosz, and Richard Huelsenbeck, who was one of the founders of Zurich Dada. Eventually, these men joined together to instigate the Berlin Dada movement in 1918, which started as the Club Dada, and would last until 1922.7 Raoul Hausmann initiated many key innovations in the movement. He wrote many manifestos, satires, and political and social critiques that demonstrate his understanding of the political contradictions of the time, including the magazine Der Dada that he co-wrote and designed (Cat. 4).8
He also rejected the traditional medium of oil painting in favor of new materials in art. He began to incorporate newspaper clippings with photographs into his work. An early example of this practice in his oeuvre is Gurk from 1919 (Cat. 3). The piece is a collage of clippings from woodcuts and journals on blue paper, which was actually the back page of his Der Dada 2.9 His rationale for incorporating these materials came from his desire to integrate culture which he saw in newspaper and mass media. Moreover, one of his most innovative creations were ‘poster-poems’, random sequences of letters lined up by a printer. His OFFEAHBDC (Cat. 6) is a prime example of this medium. He also experimented with assemblage. His Mechanical Head: The Spirit of the Age10 is one of his most celebrated works (Cat. 5). The piece itself is an assemblage of wood, metal, cardboard, leather, and other materials. It was his hope that the Mechanical Head would profoundly attack expressionism and bourgeois culture in order for the ‘rudimentary state of mind’ to be recognized. Finally, he also contributed to the practice of photomontage as a means of incorporating mass media, modern culture, and new technology into his art. His piece The Art Critic from 1920 shows an anonymous figure from a magazine identified as the artist George Grosz. His mangled eyes and the fragments of German bank notes suggest that the critic is controlled by capitalist forces. In this way, photomontage became a means of satire and political protest.
By the end of 1920, Richard Huelsenbeck had published his Dada Almanach and The History of Dadaism, implying that the movement had come to an end in Berlin.11 Hausmann, however, continued to work in Berlin on pieces that expanded on new media and that reflected upon the culture and present state of the Weimar Republic. His work in Dada culminates in his last photomontage, ABCD (Cat. 7), where the artist’s face is shown prominently in the center of the composition as an announcement of his performance of a phonetic poem sits below. The letters ‘ABCD’ are clenched firmly between his teeth as well. Other cultural artifacts are included, such as a 1921 Czech bank note and a propaganda piece by El Lissitsky.12 Unlike his early self-portraits that seem to alienate the artist, this work has a sense of practicality and demonstrates an awareness of the world. The development of this socially-conscious and non-elitist art remains one of Hausmann’s greatest achievements in Berlin Dada.
After ABCD, Hausmann himself abandoned photomontage and began to experiment with other new mediums including drawing, photography, and fiction writing, taking a step towards International Modernism. For the Club Dada though, Hausmann remains one of the key innovators in this radical, egalitarian, and uncompromising association. His widespread activities and the diversity of his forms allowed him to permeate the society of the Weimar Republic on both a political and critical level. Ultimately, Hausmann will be remembered as the dadasophe who instigated not only an arts movement but a new means of building culture.
1 Annely Juda Fine Art, “Raoul Hausmann,” In The Twenties in Berlin, Exhibition catalogue (London, 1978), 20.
2 Timothy O. Benson, Raoul Hausmann and Berlin Dada (Ann Arbor, Michigan: UMI Research Press, 1987), 163.
3 Musée departemental d’Art contemporain de Rochechouart, “Raoul Hausmann, 1886-1971,” Exhibition catalogue, Chateau de Rochechouart, 23.
4 Musée departemental d’Art contemporain de Rochechouart, 10.
5 Musée departemental d’Art contemporain de Rochechouart, 11.
6 Timothy O. Benson, “Mysticism, Materialism, and Machine in Berlin Dada,” Art Journal 46 (1987), 50.
7 Annely Juda Fine Art, “Raoul Hausmann,” In The Twenties in Berlin, Exhibition catalogue (London, 1978), 22.
8 Benson, Raoul Hausmann and Berlin Dada, 104.
9 Benson, Raoul Hausmann and Berlin Dada, 138.
10 Moderna Museet Stockholm, “Raoul Hausmann,” October 21-November 5, 1967, Exhibition Catalogue (Malmo: Arbmans/Tryckeri, 1967), 15.
11 Richard Huelsenbeck, “En Avant Dada: A History of Dadaism,” In The Dada Painters and Poets: An Anthology, ed. Robert Motherwell (Boston: Wittenborn Art Books, Inc., 1981), 40.
12 Benson, Raoul Hausmann and Berlin Dada, 205-8.