Max Ernst’s The Hat Makes the Man, created in 1920, is a Dadaist collage that denounces capitalist ideals. The artwork features hats, symbolizing materialism, and creates absurd humanoid figures to criticize mainstream culture. Born in Germany after the trauma of World War I, Ernst used dream-like imagery to reflect on his experiences.
The anthropomorphic shapes in the painting resemble phallic towers and are suggestive of Sigmund Freud’s concept of the unconscious. The title, tongue-in-cheek, further references Freud’s work in The Joke and Its Relation to the Unconscious.
The artwork can be viewed at New York City’s Museum of Modern Art.
Ernst was a key figure in the Dada art movement that flourished after World War I as artists rejected typical artistic decision-making processes and fused together different mediums into provocative works. By using collage techniques featuring objects associated with materialism, he critiqued traditional societal hierarchies and values. Ernst’s distinctive style would help shape later Surrealist movements.