Art, Life, & Destruction:
Theme & Variations by Raoul Hausmann & Wolf Vostell
Raoul Hausmann (1886-1971) and Wolf Vostell (1932-1998) both developed their art in the wake of the political and cultural chaos of post-war Germany Hausmann during and after World War I, Vostell after World War II. Many similarities exist between these two artists, and I will use Hausmann’s optophonetic poetry and Vostell’s dé-coll/age as the basis for an in-depth exploration of the parallels between their art.
Hausmann, like other Berlin Dadaists, desired the creation of a new man so that a new world could emerge out of Germany’s post-war chaos. For this he needed to develop a new language and new form of art, hence “optophonetic poetry.” This began as purely visual—a chaotic, collage-like combination of letters and words, both real and made up. Eventually, Hausmann gave public performances that often provoked audience participation, or at least public outrage.
Vostell also wished for a new state of mind in humanity to create a more peaceful post-war world. He presented instances of destruction to his audience, as he believed the public would learn from the violence that created the destruction and instigate change for the better. Vostell called his art “dé-coll/age.” This too began as purely visual with Vostell ripping away parts of layered street posters. Later Vostell turned dé-coll/age into happenings that required public interaction.
Hausmann (and other Dadaists) further tried to reach the public through short-lived periodicals like Der Dada. Many of Hausmann’s Dadaist and political ideas were laid out alongside texts from other Dadaists. The contributors included are evidence of Hausmann’s relation to the Berlin Dada movement.
Similarly, Vostell reached the public with his publication Dé-coll/age. This journal mainly showcased Fluxus artists, a group of which Vostell was a founding member. Vostell also included his own work, which is more political than the other artists’ work. This is evidence of Vostell’s relatively loose association with Fluxus.
The art of Hausmann and Vostell is comparable in both formal and conceptual terms. Both created chaotic juxtapositions of letters, images, sounds, and situations that mimicked the chaotic, destructive time in which each lived. During public performances and happenings, Hausmann and Vostell provoked public participation in hopes that people would learn from the chaos and destruction brought on by modern wars and corrupt politics. They believed that by imitating and performing in real-life there was some chance of affecting positive social change.
Erin Hanas earned a BA from Central College in Iowa and worked as a glassblower and legal assistant before becoming an art history graduate student. Currently she is interning with AIC’s Prints and Drawings Department and looking for a way to research in Germany after graduation.
Thesis Advisor: Simon Anderson, Associate Professor; Art History, Theory, and Criticism
Thesis Reader: Maud Lavin, Associate Professor; Visual and Critical Studies; Art History, Theory, and Criticism
Second Reader: George Roeder, Professor, Liberal Arts; Coordinator, History and Social Sciences; Chair, Visual and Critical Studies