MICHAEL HEIZER: The man who moves mountains

by Kim Steele

Michael Heizer on his desert ranch  with Potato Chip Credit:  Isaac Breeken, New York Times

Michael Heizer on his desert ranch with Potato Chip, photograph by Isaac Breeken, The New York Times


THE MOST PROMINENT EARTH SCULPTOR IN THE WORLD, Michael Heizer has experienced a resurgence in his work, as evidenced by his recent exhibition at Gagosian Gallery in New York this summer, which The Boulevardiers had the pleasure of viewing.

As a neophyte in art reviewing, just awarded my NEA grant as an ‘emerging critic,’ I reviewed his piece on the Seattle waterfront, titled Adjacent in Myrtle Edwards Park, in 1976. I also witnessed some random rocks propped up next to the new Federal Building in Seattle as well, and wondered about the nature of art? It seems random and purposeless.



Adjacent, by Michael Heizer


“If you want to see the Pieta, you go to Italy.
To see the Great Wall, you go to China.
My work isn’t conceptual art, it’s sculpture.
You just have to go see it.”
-Michael Heizer


by Michael Heizer

Seattle Federal Building installation, photograph by Kim Steele


As a young adult, I stretched to understand the meaning of art and it’s impact. His most monumental project ‘City’ still stands as one of his most formidable projects, comparable to the Giza Pyramids, is a life long project started in 1972, it is located in Nevada, his home state, and comprises of five phases, each consisting of a number of structures. Now proclaimed by him finished. “He designed ‘City’ to disappear into the landscape, to blend in to Garden Valley. The connection between art and nature is palpable.” (NYT)


“As long as you’re going to make a sculpture, why not make one that competes with a 747, or the Empire State Building, or the Golden Gate Bridge.”

– Michael Heizer


Heizer viewing "City," Garden city, Nevada credit:  Michael Govan, New York Times

Michael Heizer viewing City in Garden City, Nevada;
photograph by Michael Govan, The New York Times


Heizer instructed at UC, Berkeley for thirty years while residing in Nevada near his project City. Despite that Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty, a freind is the best-known example of ‘earth art,’ in the Great Salt Lake, Utah; he has become the most renowned sculpture working on this scale. His work is comparable to the more noted, Richard Serra, but much more sublime.


“I think earth is the material with the most potential because it is the original source material.”

-Michael Heizer


Spiral Jetty, by Robert Smithson

Spiral Jetty, by Robert Smithson


Heizer creates a dichotomous relationship between the earth and his invasive sculptures which are often massive stones and metal, some worked and some simply excavated from the land. The Boulevardiers visited the recently installed earthwork at the LA County Museum of Modern Art (LACMA), Levitated Mass, and felt the gravity and imposition of weight and space that signifies his work. It comprises a 340-ton boulder squatting above a concrete trench. The transport of the rock became a documentary. Nonetheless, it does beg the question of why is it there and what purpose does it serve. It seems a bit of Disneyland.

His other most monumental work is Double Negative. It consists of two cuts of fifty feet deep, cut into opposite cliff edges of Mormon Mesa in Nevada, which displaced 240,000 tons of sandstone and rhyolite.


Double Negative, by Michael Heizer

Double Negative, by Michael Heizer


An earth artist coming indoors is challenging. But Heizer triumphs in his “negative wall sculptures,” chunks of ore rock. They were in the Gagosian Gallery show this year. They are placed inside 14 inch niches on a grand scale, and at a diagonal. He claims that they are prompted by a desire to “create an absence and then refill the same void.” Heizer had not had a gallery represent him for years when Larry Gagosian approached him.



Potato Chip (negative wall sculpture), by Michael Heizer, Gagosian Gallery, New York, photograph by Kim Steele


There have been some threats to his artistic well being. A train line was proposed to through Garden Valley to transport nuclear waste. This has stalled, partially by the efforts of his Senator Harry Reid, Democratic Leader in the U.S. Senate. Reid proposed legislation to protect the area, which was opposed by Republicans. He has appealed directly to President Obama to declare the entire region…three-quarters of a million acres as the Basin and Range National Monument.

In 1995, Heizer was diagnosed with a neurological disorder known as polyneuropathy, which reduced his ability to use his hands. Despite this, Heizer currently resides with his second wife, Mary Shanahan, near the City site, and continues his work on the project to this day.

Michael Heizer is an artist who challenges us to move from the comfortable spot of appreciating art. As a neophyte in art viewing and criticism, I peered at those rocks in my home town on Second Avenue and scratched my head. I have always been a proponent of making an effort to appreciate and understand art that sometimes does not come easily. I have heard the tired and annoying adage “I know what I like.” As well as boasting that ones instinct is sufficient to critique art. I disagree; of course within bounds, but when an artist is universally revered, like Michael Heizer, an effort must be exerted. Contrarily, an artist like Jeff Koons, who is universally celebrated, with silly sculptures around the world, whom I believe to be a hoax and an example of The Emperor’s New Clothes, but nonetheless, worthy of examination. A lesson to be learned in both cases.


Michael Heizer, Altar 1, Gagosian Gallery, New York

Altar 1, by Michael Heizer, Gagosian Gallery, New York, photograph by Kim Steele





When in Milan … Expo 2015

by Sally Steele


The Boulevardiers have been to EXPO 2015. We were impressed, surprised, entertained, humbled, underwhelmed, treated to a world-class press tour of the Switzerland pavillion, in awe of the Korea pavilion, left with big thoughts, and big questions.

Sustainability, the ifs ands and buts are resoundingly evident at EXPO 2015, more here. Does this drive all the traffic to EXPO, doubtful? If attending makes each person think twice about how the bounty in many parts of the world depletes the planet, then mission successful.



EXPO 2015 Map

Wikipedia: Expo 2015 is the current Universal Exposition being hosted by Milan, Italy. The opening took place on 1 May 2015 and the expo will close on 31 October 2015. This is the second time Milan has hosted the exposition, the first being the Milan International of 1906.

The theme chosen for the 2015 Milan Universal Exposition is Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life. This embraces technology, innovation, culture, traditions and creativity and how they relate to food and diet. Expo 2015 will further develop themes introduced in earlier Expos (e.g., water at Expo 2008 in Zaragoza) in the light of new global scenarios and emerging issues, with a principal focus on the right to healthy, secure and sufficient food for all the world’s inhabitants.

The concerns of many futurologists about the quality of food in the years to come are compounded by forecasts of increasing uncertainties regarding the quantities of food that will be available globally. These concerns, expressed early on in studies at MIT for the Club of Rome, were largely ignored at a time when it appeared that increases in resource availability would outstrip increases in consumption. However, the rapid depletion of agricultural surpluses has clearly manifested the urgency of the problem: How to feed the planet and prevent hunger.

Each of the 145 participating countries is hosted in a self-built pavilion and is represented on the official Expo website. Switzerland was the first country to commit to participating in EXPO 2015.



Switzerland Pavilion

The Concept: With its unique take on the theme of Expo Milano 2015 Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life, Switzerland, which was the first country to join the Expo Milano 2015, reflects on the scarcity of food resources in the world and shows the other side of abundance.
Its pavilion is made up of four towers, full of local food products which the visitor can take away. But there is a limit to the resources available… to exceed that limit is to deprive other visitors of the same opportunities.
water (2)

Switzerland pavilion, countdown clock = remaining water supply

Thanks to the modularity of the structure, the platform on which the towers stand is lowered as they are emptied, allowing everyone to see for themselves their own habits of consumption. The project, which focuses on the availability and distribution of food resources in the world, invites visitors to reflect on their behavior as consumers.


Expo in Milano, Italy, 2015

Switzerland pavilion, all about apples

At the time of our visit, two of the towers were emptied already, 3 weeks into EXPO all of the water & apples were gone, the towers descended, point taken.


Switzerland pavilion, where does all that water come from...

Switzerland pavilion, where does all that water come from…

Water is another theme of this pavilion, a spectacular room of sculpted granite maps the geography and traces the path of water in Europe, it is fascinating. The “where does it all come from” question is not ours, we come from California, ask us “where did it all go” and we will tell you, we wasted it and believed the rain & snow would never stop. We have stopped remarking to anyone who will listen that is takes 1 gallons of water to yield one almond…we are at a loss for any words every time we think about the dark red splotches that indicate our groundwater is perilously non-existent.  Governor Brown recently passed legislation to regulate the depletion of acquafiers in California, finally.


EXPO 2015, Food for thought

EXPO 2015, Food for thought

Concept: At Expo Milano 2015, the Republic of Korea provides an arena for dialogue on the future of providing food for humanity. A future in which food is provided in a safe, healthy and equitable manner. The Republic of Korea Pavilion showcases the diverse culinary practices that are rooted in the country’s cultural traditions. In addition, it explores ways to further enhance their relevance in both the present and the future of human society, utilizing highly advanced science and technology in the fields of food, environment, and human physiology. We found the Korean Pavilion to be the most compelling pavilion graphically.


Korea pavilion

Korea pavilion, food everywhere

The pavilion is constructed with the architectural theme of the “Moon Jar”, a traditional pottery vessel in the shape of the full moon. During the past, pottery in Korea was transformed from simple ceramic grain bowls into beautiful celadons and porcelains. These bowls represent Republic of Korea’s theme of Expo Milano 2015. The Republic of Korea Pavilion explores the possibilities of taking its precious heritage of culinary tradition into the future, and demonstrates how to apply these traditions to resolve challenges for the whole of humanity. These traditions are based on Koreans’ long-held belief that nature is not an object to be conquered by humans, instead it is to be revered and understood. Republic of Korea believes that the answer to humanity’s challenges of providing food should come from nature itself. Through diverse exhibitions and dynamic participatory activities, the Republic of Korea Pavilion shows that a healthy and sustainable food culture can also be full of fun and exciting.
Give yourself time to explore the Korea pavilion, every part of it is interesting and though-provoking; and do not miss the multimedia presentation, video is here: Symphony of Food!


Expo in Milano, Italy, 2015

Korea pavilion, Symphony of Food, photograph by Kim Steele

Expo in Milano, Italy, 2015

Korea pavilion, photograph by Kim Steele


This EXPO is also about design. Wandering the thankfully covered main walkway, many of the pavilions are another kind of feast…one for the eyes.
Brazil Pavilion

Brazil pavilion, photograph by Kim Steele














China pavilion

China pavilion, photograph by Kim Steele







From the EXPO official site: The explicit commitment undertaken by Expo Milano 2015 since the early phases of its candidacy, has been to produce a great event, focusing on respect for the environment, local communities and where they live.


Sustainability is a central pillar of this commitment, an overarching, universal value that permeates all aspects of the Expo starting with the theme “Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life,” projected to a sustainable future, for the planet and society as a whole. In particular, the environmental commitment of Expo 2015 SpA takes form in the implementation of criteria necessary for sustainability applied to all aspects and the entire lifecycle of the event, in order to prevent, mitigate or compensate any possible negative impact on the environment or on local communities.  We felt that given this opportunity to educate, the immense topic was not covered in enough depth.


Expo in Milano, Italy, 2015

USA pavilion, vertical farm, photograph by Kim Steele

The theme and agenda for EXPO 2015 is ambitious: Being a relevant place for the exchange of experience and best practices, the Universal Exposition of Milan represents a special opportunity for spreading sustainability principles related to food production, as recalled by its Theme “Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life” and to the organization of events. Starting from this consideration, the Italian Ministry of Environment and Protection of Land and Sea has developed, in collaboration with Expo 2015 SpA, the “Towards a Sustainable Expo” Programme, aimed at stimulating and enhancing the adoption of solutions and initiatives in a sustainable perspective.The “Towards a Sustainable Expo” Programme is directed to all the Participants as well as to all the other Companies and Organizations, taking part to Expo Milan 2015, that are already involved in the implementation of or, are going to implement,  one or more initiatives related to the sustainability of their participation to the Event. The “Towards a Sustainable Expo” Programme recognizes four main categories:
  1. Sustainable architecture of Self-Built Pavilions and exhibition areas
  2. Sustainability of food offered by catering and food services (which were numerous)
  3. Sustainability of furniture, packaging, merchandising and of the organization of events outside the Exposition Site
  4. Other initiatives not classifiable in the above mentioned categories

We found a day full of surprises at EXPO 2015. Our Milan based Boulevardier, Sara Nitti (who last wrote on the new Prada Foundation) will update on what happens post-EXPO to the site and all of its constructions…we have heard it will become a sports complex, we’ve heard that before…the remnants of such complexes litter the world. If you are in Italy, and in Milan, we recommend a visit, a day well spent, with interludes of excellence in inspiration and art.

Parenthetically, The Boulevardiers visited MAXXI in Rome, a new museum, which was also devoted to the Food theme. They presented a very intriguing display covering one floor, on the history of grain and granaries on our planet, that we also recommend.

Expo in Milano, Italy, 2015

EXPO artist, photograph by Kim Steele


Flaming June, and other Pre-Raphaelites

by Sally Steele

 Sir Frederic Leighton’s 1895 painting Flaming June. Photograph: Museo de Arte de Ponce

Sir Frederic Leighton’s 1895 painting Flaming June. Photograph: Museo de Arte de Ponce

“PAINT the leaves as they grow!

If you can paint one leaf, you can paint the world.” John Ruskin

The Guardian, Friday, May 1, 2015: A remarkable study for Flaming June, one of the best known of all Pre-Raphaelite paintings, has been discovered hanging discreetly behind a bedroom door in an English country mansion.

I have been a student of Pre-Raphaelite art forever, really. My mother, an art volunteer & educator had an affinity for the Pre-Raphaelites. Some of my earliest memories of her are of her coming home from art classes at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, with Martin Jackson, full of paint smudges and stories. When our family moved to rural Chester Country, one of the first places my Mom made into a home away from home was the Delaware Art Museum. This museum is known throughout the world for its Pre-Raphaelite collection. She spent countless hours studying, and even more hours delighting museum-goers with her knowledge of the painters and the paintings.

The New York Times, August 7, 2014: In June, it [The Delaware Art Museum] was formally sanctioned by the Association of Art Museum Directors, which has asked its members not to lend artwork to Delaware or assist with its exhibitions.

The spanking came one day after the museum sold a painting from its collection, William Holman Hunt’s “Isabella and the Pot of Basil.” Trustees say that the sale was the only way to help settle a $19.8 million expansion debt and plump the museum’s endowment. Now, for the first time, the museum is confirming that it will sell two more works. The first, Winslow Homer’s “Milking Time” (1875), is a masterpiece of American genre painting, a quietly intense farm scene in which a mother and son turn away and gaze over a wooden fence that seems to say something about held-back emotion. The Homer will be offered in a Sotheby’s auction this fall, unless a buyer turns up first. “That is our plan of attack,” Gerret Copeland, the chairman of the Delaware Museum board, explained. “If we find a private buyer, it will go sooner.”

In some ways, the situation in Delaware can be seen as a cautionary tale about the perils of over-expansion. In 2005, the museum completed a construction project that doubled its space. Glass wings (designed by Ann Beha Architects) rose up on either side of the original building, a trim, red-brick, Georgian-style structure that brought to mind a suburban bank.

But renovating and enlarging art museums, which has become so popular you might think size was the goal of art, is no guarantee of larger audiences. Revealingly, the Delaware Museum’s membership is down to 1,600 households, from a peak of about 3,000 in 2001, said Jessica Jenkins, a museum spokeswoman.

Selling artwork to fund operations (as opposed to acquisitions) is widely viewed as self-defeating, like burning down your house to heat the kitchen. Museums are supposed to safeguard art for future generations, not cash in or out. And as the sale of the Holman Hunt proved, it doesn’t always go as hoped.

The sad state of the museum notwithstanding, my own love of Pre-Raphaelite art, and my own many hours spent at the museum studying and being inspired are life-long, and hopefully something I pass along to my sons, both artists.

Frederick Leighton

Frederic Leighton



Frederic Leighton was knighted at Windsor in 1878, and was created a baronet, of Holland Park Road in the Parish of St Mary Abbots, Kensington, in the County of Middlesex, eight years later. He was the first painter to be given a peerage, in the New Year Honours List of 1896. The patent creating him Baron Leighton, of Stretton in the County of Shropshire, was issued on 24 January 1896; Leighton died the next day of angina pectoris.



The Guardian, Friday, May 1, 2015: The discovery of the head study for Sir Frederic Leighton’s picture was announced on Friday — one of many extraordinary secrets to emerge from a 16th-century manor house owned by Mary, Duchess of Roxburghe until her death, aged 99, last year.

A pencil and chalk study for Frederic Leighton’s Flaming June. Photograph: Martin Godwin for the Guardian

A pencil and chalk study for Frederic Leighton’s Flaming June. Photograph: Martin Godwin for the Guardian

The heir, to his immense surprise, was her great-nephew Bamber Gascoigne, former host of University Challenge. He has vowed to begin carrying out the essential restoration needed to secure the house’s future and has arranged with Sotheby’s to sell objects from the house which paint a picture of an England that no longer exists.

The Leighton drawing is particularly exciting. Simon Toll, Sotheby’s Victorian art specialist, said finding it behind the door of a small, dark anteroom off the duchess’s bedroom was “thrilling … one of the most heart-stopping moments in my career.”

Flaming June is on posters all over the world, yet resides in the most unexpected of places – the municipal art museum of Puerto Rico’s second biggest city, Ponce, where it is known as “the Mona Lisa of the southern hemisphere.” It was snapped up by the governor of Puerto Rico, Luis Ferré, in 1963 for $1,000 (£660) when Pre-Raphaelites were still painfully out-of-fashion. But while experts were aware of the existence of the pencil and chalk preparatory drawing because it featured in an 1895 art magazine, they did not know its location.

Toll said he immediately recognized the study, which joins existing nude and drapery studies for the painting. “This head study is the last piece of the jigsaw in terms of the preparatory work Leighton undertook before starting on the big oil painting.”  Even Sargent had a  ‘Pre-Raphaelite’ period in rural England with ‘Carnation, Lily, Lily Rose.’

Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose, 1885-6, by John Singer Sargent, presented by the Trustees of the Chantrey Bequest 1887, Tate Britain

Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose, 1885-6, by John Singer Sargent, presented by the Trustees of the Chantrey Bequest 1887, Tate Britain


It seems likely that the drawing was purchased directly from the artist’s studio after Leighton’s death. It is just one treasure from West Horlsey Place, the duchess’s remarkable time-capsule house … to walk around it is like being in an EM Forster novel.  She allowed few people beyond the main reception rooms. Gascoigne, now 80, spent many happy lunches at his great-aunt’s house but never stepped foot past the stone hall where meals were served or the drawing room and garden room. “In all that time she never said to anybody, ‘Would you like to see upstairs?’ I think it may have been considered bad form, showing off or something. I saw the amazing upstairs drawing room for the first time, as its owner.”

He had no idea that such a treasure trove existed in the labyrinth of rooms beyond.

The contents evoke a lifestyle so aristocratically excessive that characters in Downton Abbey might have thought it a touch too much. There are liveried staff uniforms; monogrammed china which members of the royal family would have used as dinner guests; a 10ft white cut-velvet cloak studded with paste stones which the duchess’s mother would have worn while welcoming guests to parties in the 1920s and 1930s; and a silver Asprey breakfast-in-bed tray.












The duchess’s life was as fascinating as her house. She was born Mary Evelyn Hungerford Crewe-Milnes and married the Duke of Roxburghe – “Bobo” to his friends and family – in Westminster Abbey in 1935, a society wedding that brought together two of Britain’s great aristocratic families.

George Innes-Ker, 9th Duke of Roxburghe

George Innes-Ker, 9th Duke of Roxburghe








The marriage deteriorated, and in 1953 her husband had his butler deliver divorce papers to her on a silver tray while they were both eating breakfast.




The Roxburghe castle

Not pleased, Mary barricaded herself into a castle wing where she remained for two months, in spite of the duke turning off the power and water. It was only the intervention of a neighbour, the Earl of Home, soon to be prime minister Alec Douglas-Home, which brought the standoff to a close.


West Horsley Place, “among other Shakespearean luminaries, Henry VIII dropped by West Horsley Place for what is rather casually described as a 35-course lunch”

Mary then divided her time between London and West Horsley Place, purchased by her parents as a country retreat in the 1930s. Gasgoigne was not expecting to inherit it. “I was absolutely astonished and, in a way, it didn’t mean anything for a bit – it seemed so strange.” It is beginning to make sense now after a year or so. The house, essentially Tudor era with an 18th-century red-brick facade screwed to it, is beautiful but needs extensive restoration. “People who know about houses say I do sympathise with you, said Gascoigne. They say ‘thank God it isn’t me’.”


The prime objects to go on auction later in the month in London will, however, be the ones that pack more narrative punch than they will demand financial pocket-depth. At the end of the month, on May 27, certain curated personal effects and accoutrements as selected by Gascoigne and Sotheby’s will go under the hammer

Whatever money is made will, after death duties, be ploughed into the house. “It is rather a late age in life to be starting an adventure,” admitted Gascoigne. “Having failed to climb Everest perhaps one needs to try something else.”


Mary, Duchess of Roxburghe — Obituary, The Telegraph, July 9, 2014:


Wedding of Mary Evelyn Hungerford Crewe-Milnes and the Duke of Roxburghe, 1935


In 1935 she was married in Westminster Abbey to the 9th Duke of Roxburghe — “Bobo” to his intimates — a Scottish landowner of more than 80,000 acres, and perhaps the best shot in the kingdom.

In 1937 the Duchess’s imposing stature and dark good looks were again seen to advantage in the Abbey at the coronation of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth. With the Duchesses of Buccleuch, Norfolk and Rutland, she carried the new Queen’s train.

Mary Roxburghe showed enterprise in the early months of the war by joining a party of “illicit wives” who had wangled passages to the Middle East to be with their Army husbands. Peter Coats, the garden designer and ADC to General Wavell, noted in April 1940: “Palestine is more like Ladies’ Day at Ascot than ever. Actually, I disapprove of them being here, just because they can pull strings and have the fare. But as they are all friends, I can’t work against them.”

A few weeks later the ever-obliging ADC extricated the Duchess from her car, marooned near Jerusalem in a herd of goats.

After her divorce, Mary Roxburghe spent much of her life at 15, Hyde Park Gardens, a large and elegantly furnished flat overlooking the park. She worked for many charities and was President of the National Union of Townswomen’s Guilds. She also became an enthusiastic member of the Royal Society of Literature, and was for many years a devoted patron of the Royal Ballet.

Caricature of Frederic Leighton

Caricature of Frederic Leighton


Nascido Helmut Herzfeld

Nascido Helmut Herzfeld


“I lost my parents in 1899 and thereafter lived as an orphan with different families.”


John Heartfield managed to rise to a distinguished career as a graphic designer after a very challenging childhood, founding a publishing house, Malik-Verlag in 1917, with the renowned artist George Grosz, one of this publisher’s favorite artists.  Both resisted the anti-British sentiment bubbling in Germany before WWI, by Anglicizing their names.  In 1908, he studied art in Munich at the Royal Bavarian Arts and Crafts School.  Heartfield joined the German Communist Party (KPD) shortly thereafter.

In 1917, Heartfield became a member of Berlin Club Dada.  He later became active in the Dada movement, which informed much of his artwork, helping to organize the Erste Internationale Dada-Messe (First International Dada Fair) in Berlin in 1920. Dadaists were the young lions of the German art scene, provocateurs who disrupted public art gatherings and ridiculed the participants. In an interview with an English historian, Francis Klingender, Heartfield described Dada “as an effort to disturb the higher impulses of the intellect – the spiritual, mystical, and subjective – but only in order to get at the truth behind them.”


Dadaism - Art and Anti Art, Edited by Raoul Hausmann, John Heartfield, and George Grosz

Dadaism – Art and Anti Art, Edited by Raoul Hausmann, John Heartfield, and George Grosz


The Dada labeled traditional art ‘trivial and bourgeois.’ Heartfield was a member of a circle of German artistic titans that included Erwin PiscatorBertolt BrechtHannah Höch, and a host of others. Heartfield began his artistic career as a set designer. “Using Heartfield’s minimal props and stark stages, Brecht interrupted his plays at key junctures to have the audience to be part of the action and not to lose themselves in it.”


John Heartfield Stage Set Projection for Bertolt Brecht, 1951

John Heartfield Stage Set Production for Bertolt Brecht, 1951


Heartfield was dismissed from the Reichswehr Film Service for his political stridency, and founded Die Pleite, a satirical magazine with George Grosz. In the New York MoMa hangs a telling portrait by Grosz of Heartfield, entitled The Engineer Heartfield. (see below–last image)  He then met the pivotal playwright Bertolt Brecht in 1924, for whom he built many theatrical sets. Brecht became involved in the Weimar Republic Berlin, while his publication Die Pleite was critical of the movement up until the Third Reich, because the Reich ignored the constitutional requirements in 1933. Although the Republic had many positive accomplishments, improving the railway, reform the currency and tax policies, it blocked German war reparations and created unwanted borders.

Brecht produced many radical plays based on characters from Charlie Chaplin to G.B. Shaw, and collaborated with Kurt Weill, among others.  The “masterpiece” of the Brecht/Weill collaborations, Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny (Aufstieg und Fall der Stadt Mahagonny), caused an uproar when it premiered in 1930 in Leipzig, with Nazis in the audience protesting. The Brecht/Weill association was very influential to Heartfield.

Heartfield was prolific in his production of set-designs and book jackets.  His medium was photomontage, very political in nature and expressing criticism of the growing Nazi movement and particularly Hitler, about whom several of his most pointed montages were directed.  On Good Friday 1933, the SS broke into his apartment, Heartfield escaped by jumping from his balcony. He left Germany by walking over the Sudeten Mountains to Czechoslovakia, ultimately creating his most revered image to raise awareness of the Reich’s motto, Blood and Iron.


Poster by John Heartfield, Blut und Eisen

Poster by John Heartfield, Blut und Eisen (Blood and Iron)


Heartfield’s artistic output was abundant. His works appeared as covers for the Arbeiter Illustrierte Zeitung (AIZ, Workers’ Illustrated Newspaper) from 1929 to 1933. AIZ was a popular weekly with circulation that rivaled any magazine in Germany during the early 1930’s. During 1931, Heartfield’s photomontages were featured monthly on the AIZ cover, an important point, because most copies of the AIZ were sold at newsstands.




It was through rotogravure, an engraving process whereby pictures, designs, and words are engraved into the printing plate or printing cylinder – that Heartfield’s montages, in the form of posters, were distributed in the streets of Berlin in 1932 and 1933, gaining him wide exposure.




His photomontages satirizing Adolf Hitler and the Nazis employing subverted Nazi symbols, such as the swastika, in order to undermine their propaganda message. The term “Swastika” was originally the name for a hooked cross in Sanskrit, and swastikas have been found on artifacts, such as coins and pottery, from the ancient city of Troy.




With reference to the medieval torture instrument, the wheel, Heartfield skillfully adapted the swastika (often misused by the Nazis) to picture what was happening to the German people under the ‘guidance’ of Adolf Hitler and his cronies. Some might say that this image of suffering is somewhat generous to the German people, portraying them as the victims of Nazism but once Hitler had secured absolute power for himself and with no method of democratically – or governmentally – relieving him of his position (as was the case with Mussolini in Italy), then victims is exactly what they were.  Parenthetically, Putin is now removing all the references to Swastikas for upcoming commemoration of the victory over Germany in WWII.  Heartfield’s work was so graphic that it needed no translations.  “In his repeated uses of skulls, skeletons, swords and cannons, Heartfield can seem to belong to a peculiarly Germanic Visual tradition that starts with Dürer and Grunewald – a vein of realism so vehemently precise that it becomes macabre.” In addition, “except for Mussolini, many of the political figures pictured are obscure.” (source: The New York Times, May 3, 1991)

Mussolini was a detractor as well:

We have rejected the theory of the economic man, the Liberal theory, and we are, at the same time, emancipated from what we have heard said about work being a business. The economic man does not exist; the integral man, who is political, who is economic, who is religious, who is holy, who is combative, does exist. Fascism HAS BECOME formidable and needs only a Duce, a Fuehrer, an organizer, and a loosening of the purse strings of those who gain materially by its victory, to become the most powerful force threatening the Republic. (source: George Seldes; Sawdust Caesar, 1935)

This is what Heartfield strove against.




Once again, in 1938, Heartfield had to flee the Nazis in Czechoslovakia to England where he was interned as an enemy alien, and where his health deteriorated. He was released and allowed to remain, unlike his brother who had to flee to the United States. This led to scrutiny by the East German Secret Police (Stasi) upon his return to Berlin after the war, due to his length of time in England. He was unable to work as an artist and was denied health benefits. At the intervention of Bertolt Brecht, Heartfield was finally admitted to the Academy of the Arts in 1956. Although he subsequently produced some montages warning of the threat of nuclear war, he was never again as prolific as in his youth.


The Engineer Heartfield

The Engineer Heartfield, by George Grosz


On July 27, 1914 Mussolini wrote the decisive editorial of the time, under the startling headline, “Our Neutrality Must Be Absolute.”  It was more than an abrogation of Italy’s contract to fight with Germany and Austro-Hungary; it was a threat of revolution at home.  Again, the very issues Heartfield fought against.

Although the Tate Modern in London did a Heartfield retrospective in 2005, he remains a little known artist. Perhaps this Boulevardiers piece will help to put that right. Although a “blue plaque” commemorates Heartfield in London, something more substantive would be much appropriate for an artist of his stature.




Following his third wife Gertrud Heartfield’s death, Heartfield was buried in Berlin, and the East German Academy of the Arts took possession of all of Heartfield’s surviving works. When the West German Academy of the Arts absorbed the East German Academy, the Heartfield Archive was transferred with it.


More art, history, and personal ephemera can be found online at The Official John Heartfield Exhibition & Archive built and curated by John Heartfield’s grandson, John J. Heartfield.


Emancipation & Esteem

May 27, 2015

Juneteenth Flyer Musician

65th Annual SF Juneteenth Celebration Commemorates the 150th Anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation “The Journey Continues” Juneteenth, also known as Juneteenth Independence Day, Freedom Day, or Emancipation Day, is a holiday in the United States that commemorates the announcement of the abolition of slavery in the U.S. state of Texas in June 1865, and more […]

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Save the date: May 9th, 2015 ~ Fondazione Prada

May 8, 2015


On May 9th Fondazione Prada, Largo Isarco 3, Milano, will be open to the public from 10 am to 9pm.     Once a former distillery, in the industrial south section of Milan–8,900 square meters, it is now the home of the biggest, and arguably, this city’s most exciting contemporary art space. The new location […]

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In the Studio: Photographs

April 11, 2015

Photograph by Constantin Brancusi, 
View of the studio: Plato, Mademoiselle Pogany II, and Golden Bird, c. 1920; © 2014 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris

  An ambitious exhibition at the Gagosian Gallery on Madison Avenue, curated by Peter Galassi, rustles up many issues. As Roberta Smith quoted in the New York Times: “…trophy-curators. Clout is definitely on display here, contributing to that heady combination of overt excellence and subtle vulgarity that may be something of a Gagosian specialty.” The […]

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“I would rather sleep in a bathroom than in another hotel.” Billy Wilder

March 8, 2015


    Just In Case The Raphael is Booked                                                      …by Jerry Bowles                                                                         There is nothing quite as deliciously self-indulgent or decadent as a great hotel. Hemingway wasn’t whistling Dixie when he said “Whenever I dream of afterlife in Heaven, the action always takes place at the Paris Ritz.” Papa loved the […]

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William Randolph Hearst ~ Boulevardier of the Year

January 18, 2015


~~~~~~     WILLIAM RANDOLPH HEARST Don’t be afraid to make a mistake, your readers might like it. ~WRH   One of the most telling descriptions, for better or worse, is the fact that his Senator father, George Hearst, willed his entire fortune upon his death in 1895 to his wife, Phoebe, stating that his […]

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How to be Successful in the Arts 101… Shear Madness

December 31, 2014


    “I’ll never forget my first words in the theatre. Peanuts. Popcorn.” Henny Youngman     What happens when 2 actors from upstate New York decide to pursue their dreams, buy the rights to a murder-mystery written in German, by Swiss playwright Paul Portner for $50,000, turn it into a comedy, and spend another […]

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