The enduring international interest in Heartfield's oeuvre is a testament to its sustained relevance: scholars and students from a broad range of disciplines as well as artists from all over the world search for connections and points of reference for their work and research in Heartfield's oeuvre. In recent years, interest in Heartfield's art has increased significantly, as is reflected in the research enquiries and in a growing number of loan requests from international institutions and museums: the Heartfield archival holdings are one of the crowd pullers for the Akademie der Künste archives.
There had been a desire to present the graphic archival holdings in their entirety in an adequate form on the Internet for quite some time, but upon closer inspection it became clear that the existing archive indexing would have to be revised for this purpose and that all of the archival holdings would have to be digitised at considerable expense. Whereas the digitisation was carried out using the Akademie der Künste archive's own resources, a generous financial donation from the Ernst von Siemens Art Foundation made it possible for the development project led by Anna Schultz to be realised through the funding of a project assistant. It was a stroke of luck that this position was filled by Meike Herdes who, with enthusiasm, in-depth knowledge and the necessary rigour, unified, systematically expanded and structured the existing records and ensured that all of the summary archive indexes (so-called bundling of indexes) could be broken up. Linking biographical data and reference objects and indexing the image content are only some examples of the important elements of this archiving work, which has ensured the quality of the online catalogue and will make it easy and a pleasure to use.
When the archival holdings were being revised in preparation for the digitisation and publication of the online catalogue, it was apparent that the conservation of the objects needed to be urgently improved: in particular, the fragile photomontages and sensitive book jackets needed to be kept in optimal conservation storage in order to best protect them against damage from wear and handling in the long term. The restoration department received generous support in implementing these measures from the Hermann Reemtsma Foundation within the context of the Kunst auf Lager funding initiative.
Due to the provisions of copyright law in regard to the work as exercised by John Heartfield's grandchildren (represented by VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn), we would not have been able to present the archival holdings online without the support of the community of heirs. We therefore owe a great debt of gratitude to Heartfield's descendants in the Netherlands and the US. Our shared vision and the declared aim of the project is to present Heartfield's work in its entirety, to make it available to interested members of the public and to offer impetus for new Heartfield research by making the visual material available. It is now possible to understand the genesis of motifs or compare alternative designs online for the very first time. Zoom and lightbox functions allow the oeuvre to be studied and experienced in all its diversity. The concept for this presentation was collaboratively designed by our project team, with special thanks to Myriam Hilmes who, with great commitment as project assistant, performed exceptional work and always maintained the overview. We were very fortunate to engage Heimann + Schwantes as the design firm. They have managed to implement our wishes and ideas in the design and at the same time to create a design concept that meets the usage requirements of various visitor groups and to use Heartfield's work as a source of inspiration in order to present it both respectfully and effectively. app@web SWE GmbH was responsible for the technical implementation and programming.Heartfield's illustrated biography and the biographical data of other persons were compiled by Michael Krejsa, Volker Landschof and Harald Schadek. Most of the illustrations, many of which were only recently digitized as part of our Heartfield project and previously unpublished, have been selected from the holdings of the Akademie's Archiv der Bildenden Künste. The glossary was compiled by Nina Zellerhoff.
The publication of many works previously unknown to research in this format sheds new light on the work of the artist who – as the publication of the online catalogue clearly shows – was a photomontage and pioneering dada artist as well as a major graphic satirist who created a multifaceted, genre-crossing oeuvre and was at the centre of an international network of artists and intellectuals. We present this network in the context of the virtual exhibition Kosmos Heartfield that invites you to explore John Heartfield´s life and works in new ways through selected exhibits from the entire Akademie der Künste archives.