Hannelore Baron (June 8, 1926–April 28, 1987) was born in Dilligen, Germany, to Jewish parents who owned a small textile shop. On Kristallknacht, she saw the shop destroyed, her home ransacked, and her father brutally beaten by a Nazi storm trooper with a hammer.
Haunted by the sight of his bloody handprint on a wall, she used art as exorcism, fabricating an alternative primordial past with its own ritual objects. Totems of a self-generated innocent world, her work was a talisman against personal memory, made with found fragments redolent of strangers.
Her untitled collages and boxed assemblages exploit the aesthetic possibilities of disorder yoked to the antique: worn scraps of paper, cloth, string, wire and wood, some painted with rudimentary figures or scribbled with the artist’s own runic calligraphy. Intending some primitive utopia, she succeeded in quickening a sense of time passed, of history long finished. The work invites you into dark attics fragrant with melancholy and the dust of forgotten lives.
Commentary about her work frequently hinges on the story of her life; but Ms. Baron’s formal achievement commands allegiance apart from her history. The intense emotive power of these arrangements of derelict bits stands free of any knowledge of the circumstances of their production. Her archaisms are counterfeited with great delicacy and sophistication; seemingly childlike drawing is accomplished with deliberate craft. She was a connoisseur of cunning blurs, blots and textural subtleties. Her encased structures plus the modernist ease of her compositions links her to Joseph Cornell, Anne Ryan and the much-mythologized Eva Hesse.
Without a formal art education, her interest grew and was nourished through a variety of art classes at adult education and community centers. At age 40, in the mid 1960s, Baron combined her knowledge of a variety of art making techniques (watercolor, drawing and printmaking) and began making her first collages. In the early 1970s, Baron established a studio and devoted her time and energy completely to her artwork until her death in 1987.
Although her compositions are completely abstract, she considered them to be both personal and political statements. In her own words,
Everything I’ve done is a statement on the, as they say, human condition...the way other people march to Washington, or set themselves on fire, or write protest letters, or go to assassinate someone. Well, I’ve had all the same feelings that these people had about various things, and my way out, because of my inability to do anything else for various reasons, has been to make the protest through my artwork... H.B.
Throughout the 1970s and 1980s her work garnered critical acclaim, along with gallery and museum exhibitions in the United States, Europe and Japan. In 1995, her work was the subject of a one-person exhibition at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York. In 2001 her work was the subject of a traveling exhibition curated by Ingrid Schaffner and organized by the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service. Her works can be found in the collections of The Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, The Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, and Israel Museum, Jerusalem.