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Artists Sophie Taeuber-Arp

Sophie Taeuber-Arp

Swiss Multi-media, applied arts, performance artist, and textile designer

Movements: Dada, Constructivism, Geometric Abstraction, Performance Art

Born: January 19, 1889 - Davos, Switzerland

Died: January 13, 1943 - Zurich, Switzerland

Quotes

"It is not possible for us to take ourselves back to the exact circumstances of those in a past era, attempting to create art in the style of the past is always inauthentic"
Sophie Taeuber-Arp
"I met Sophie Taeuber in 1915 in Zurich. Like the leaves on a tree in a fairytale, her luminous works descended on my existence. Only a few days after our first meeting, we executed embroideries and collages together. Together we planned large montages. We had met in the beauty of the starry firmament and its mighty architecture had foreordained out work forever."
Hans Arp writing in 1949
"All around her is the radiance of the sun... She is full of invention, caprice, fantasy. . . . It was a dance full of flashes and fishbones, of dazzling lights, a dance of penetrating intensity. The lines of her body break, every gesture decomposes into a hundred precise, angular, incisive movements. The buffoonery of perspective, lighting, and atmosphere is for her hypersensitive nervous system the pretext for drollery full of irony and wit. The figures of her dance are at once mysterious, grotesque, and ecstatic."
Hugo Ball, on Taeuber-Arp dancing to his sound poems in 1917
"...combining the beauty of volumes with the mysterious moving power of color, which sometimes reinforces the voice of the simple forms and sometimes lowers its tone. It stresses the hardness of one form while endowing another with softness."
Wassily Kandinsky on Taeuber-Arp's wooden reliefs created between 1936-8
"Dada will last... The creation of the prophetic spirit found in the works of Arp, in the poetry and art of Klee, in my scrolls, in the abstract films of Eggeling and me, in the attempts in mural paintings, abstract plastics, mosaics, and in the beautiful tapestries of Sophie Taeuber."
Hans Richter
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"The intrinsic decorative urge should not be eradicated. It is one of humankind's deep-rooted, primordial urges. Primitive people decorated their implements and cult objects with a desire to beautify and enhance....it is a sense emanating from the urge for perfection and creative accomplishment."

Synopsis

Sophie Taeuber-Arp was a key figure in many of the important movements of the pre-World War II art scene in Europe, and was one of the most active figures around the Café Voltaire in Zurich. She dedicated her career to breaking down static, artificial boundaries between genres and forms, and celebrating the creative energy such liberation released. Her creations attempted to destabilize traditional norms in art and society, and question fixed notions of gender, class, and nationality. For Taeuber-Arp, art was both something political and something to be integrated into everyday life. She later embraced the principles of Constructivism, and became one of its most important practitioners outside of Russia. Taeuber-Arp's artworks, whether a marionette, a dancer's movement, or a textile pattern, presented the possibility of crafting a more beautiful world from the elements of the present one.

Key Ideas

Taeuber-Arp was one of the signers of the Dada Manifesto and remained dedicated to the ideas of Dada throughout her career. She applied Dada to a wide range of forms, fully embracing the utopian impulses and promises of the movement to radically transform society by transforming human perception with radicalized aesthetics.
Taeuber-Arp desired to break down the boundaries between applied and fine arts. She translated principles from one genre into another, creating beautiful and groundbreaking hybrids. For example, her work with Theo Van Doesburg in the Café de L'Aubette brought principles of applied textile design into the creation of architectural space and decor.
She also explored the relationship between fine art and performance - working with dance, movement and masks. She sought to bring the ideas of Dada and Abstraction to dance and puppetry, contrasting the restriction and freedom of movement and pose, while the masks and costumes highlighted the split between dancer and the dance.

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Most Important Art

Untitled (Dada Bowl) (1916)
This almost-minimal object of turned wood shows the possibility of infusing a functional object with a radical aesthetic. Note the upturned concave shape, perhaps reflecting the Dada belief in the topsy-turvy state of the world. Taueber-Arp applied the nascent Dada strategy of attacking the bourgeois sensibilities of a corrupt world to the decorative arts. This strategy accomplished several goals. The object straddles boundaries: it is representational and abstract, made by hand and uniform as if machine-produced, utilitarian, and aesthetic. At a time when abstraction was in the vanguard and the applied and fine arts strictly divided, this combination made the object impossible to categorize. Furthermore, the sleek upturned bowl translated the simple geometric forms then in vogue in avant-garde fine art into the three-dimensions of the material world, elegantly eradicating the division between art as representation and life.
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Sophie Taeuber-Arp Artworks in Focus:
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Biography

Childhood

Sophie Henriette Gertrude Taeuber was the fifth child in a middle-class Prussian family. Her father, Emil Taeuber, was a pharmacist who died of tuberculosis when Taeuber-Arp was still a child. Her mother, Sophie Taeuber-Krusi, opened a Bed and Breakfast in Trogen, Switzerland to support the family.

Early Training

Sophie Taeuber-Arp Biography

Taeuber studied drawing at the School of Applied Arts in Saint Gallen, Switzerland from 1908 to 1910, but desired exposure to a wider range of ideas, and headed to Germany to study textile design. In Germany, her schooling reflected her interest in diverse fields and her unhappiness with strict boundaries and programs, as she bounced back and forth between the Teaching and Experimental Studio for Applied and Liberal Arts in Munich and the School of Applied Arts in Hamburg. She studied not only design, but also dance, weaving, and bead work from 1911 to 1913.

Mature Period

By 1915, she had returned to Zurich where her sister lived. She began to create non-representational paintings and sculptures, influenced by her training in textile design and Cubism. At the same time, she continued her work in the applied arts and her study of modern dance. The French artist and poet Hans Arp had taken refuge in Switzerland because of the First World War, and the two met in the fall of 1915. They began collaborating on artistic works, and romance followed. Her life at this time consisted of three interwoven strands: Dada as a social circle and fine art production, a career in the applied arts, and the study of modern dance.

Taeuber-Arp was active in Dada's Zurich heyday from 1916-19. Switzerland had remained neutral during World War I, and attracted an international crowd of dissatisfied or refugee artists, with whom Taeuber-Arp socialized. Her participation in Dada took many forms including dancing in avant-garde performances at the Cabaret Voltaire, an important locus of Zurich's Dada scene. Cabaret Voltaire, founded by Hugo Ball and Emmy Hennings, featured radically experimental poetry, and visual arts. Taeuber-Arp designed costumes sets, and even puppets for Dada performances. Her dances at Cabaret Voltaire incorporated radical Modernist principles of expressive movement. She collaborated with other Dada artists, especially her future husband Hans Arp, producing shows, dances, writings, and fine art works. In 1918, she was a co-signer of the Zurich Dada Manifesto.

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Sophie Taeuber-Arp Biography Continues
Sophie Taeuber-Arp Portrait

Starting 1916, Taeuber-Arp was also a professor of textile design and technique (a department she helped found) at the Zurich School of Arts and Crafts. She wanted to establish herself as a forward-thinker in the applied arts community and joined the Swiss Werkbund, a professional association dedicated to promoting applied artists. Taeuber-Arp produced objects for use such as bead-work purses and embroidered pillowcases. Her work received critical acclaim and sold well. In February 1916, Zurich's Museum of Arts and Crafts exhibited a collection of her applied art works. Not only were critics enthusiastic, but sales were brisk enough to necessitate hiring help to execute her designs and expedite production. Because the School of Arts and Crafts did not want their professors to take part in Dada activities, Taeuber-Arp had to keep her involvement in the Dada world of Cabaret Voltaire, and later Galerie Dada, a secret. She performed in masks and under false names. This dual life ended when she felt financially comfortable enough to resign from the Zurich School of Arts and Crafts in 1928/1929.

Taeuber-Arp began studying dance with the Swiss Modern dance choreographer Rudolf von Laban in 1916 at the Laban School of Dance in Zurich. She joined the artist colony of Monte Verita in Ascona, a famous Christian-Communist community, in the summer of 1916. She returned in 1917 to participate in the Sun Festival, with the modern dance pioneer Mary Wigman. Laban considered movement a universal language, that connected all living things, reflecting similar ideas in abstraction in art. In his classes and through her friendship with Wigman, Taeuber-Arp learned to use dance as a space of intuitive movement and radically spatialized form.

On October 20, 1922, Taeuber married Arp and changed her last name to Taeuber-Arp. The 1920s was a period of frequent travel for the couple. Her vacations with Hans Arp included other friends from the Dada circle such as Tristan Tzara, Max Ernst, and Hannah Höch. The couple associated with an international circle of vanguard artists such as Francis Picabia, Lajos Kassak, and Kurt Schwitters. Notably, in 1926, Taeuber-Arp and her husband began working on a commission to design the interior of Café de l'Aubette in Strasbourg, France. They worked with Dutch artist and co-founder of De Stijl movement Theo van Doesburg to create an interior space like a Constructivist composition writ large on walls and ceilings.

After World War I, many of the couple's acquaintances had moved to Paris, then a center of the avant-garde. In 1928, Taeuber-Arp and her husband moved to Meudon, about 5 miles south of Paris, where they would live until 1940. Taeuber-Arp was at a high point of her career in terms of organizing, writing about, and exhibiting her abstract, multi-disciplinary art. She and Hans joined the Circle and Square (Cercle et Carre) group in 1930 and then the Abstract-Création group in 1931. Her work was included in the important Circle and Square exhibition at the Galeries 23 in Paris in 1930. Taeuber-Arp was the founder and editor of the Constructivist art journal Plastique (1937-39), which kept her in touch with important avant-garde figures. From the 1930s until her untimely death, she created a series of line pictures and wooden reliefs that continued to explore her long-standing interest in geometric abstraction as well as working in other mediums.

Later Period

Sophie Taeuber-Arp Portrait

Taeuber-Arp and her husband fled to southern France when the Nazis invaded Paris in 1940. There they created a short-lived artist's colony with Sonia Delaunay. In late 1942, the couple returned to Zurich. They attempted to obtain passage to the United States, but before they succeeded, Taeuber-Arp died in her sleep on January 13, 1943. The cause was carbon monoxide poisoning from a faulty gas stove.


Legacy

To this day, Taeuber-Arp is not as well-known as other artists in her circle, including her husband Hans Arp, despite her deep involvement with the burgeoning European avant-garde and the presence of her works in museum collections across the world. Probable reasons for this lesser reputation include her being a woman, her work with craft and design - traditionally deemed lesser arts, and her premature death. However, this reputation is changing, as evidenced by the 1981 retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in New York that subsequently traveled to Chicago, Houston, and Montreal. Her work is now generally accepted as part of the story of modernism and Dada, and has drawn increasing attention from scholars and academics. Her work was influential to the growth of Feminist Art of the 1960's, who viewed her as a trailblazer. Artists and theorists working in post-Marxism and Critical Theory have also been influenced by her work and ideas. In 1995, The Swiss government redesigned their 50 Swiss franc note to include her portrait.

Influences and Connections

Influences on artist

Artists, Friends, Movements

Influenced by artist

Artists, Friends, Movements

Sophie Taeuber-Arp
Interactive chart with Sophie Taeuber-Arp's main influences, and the people and ideas that the artist influenced in turn.
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View Influences Chart

Artists

Pablo Picasso
Georges Braque
Hugo Ball
Wassily Kandinsky

Friends

Tristan Tzara
Max Ernst
Joan Miró
Hugo Ball
Hans Arp

Movements

Dada
Constructivism
Geometric Abstraction
Cubism
Futurism
Sophie Taeuber-Arp
Sophie Taeuber-Arp
Years Worked: 1915 - 1943

Artists

Laszlo Moholy-Nagy
Francis Picabia
Marcel Janco
Richard Huelsenbeck
Sonia Delaunay

Friends

Hannah Höch
Marcel Janco
Robert Delaunay
Marcel Duchamp

Movements

Geometric Abstraction
Bauhaus
Constructivism



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Useful Resources on Sophie Taeuber-Arp

Books
Articles
Videos
The books and articles below constitute a bibliography of the sources used in the writing of this page. These also suggest some accessible resources for further research, especially ones that can be found and purchased via the internet.
Sophie Taeuber-Arp

By Carolyn Lanchner

The Dada Painters and Poets: An Anthology

By Robert Motherwell

Dada

By Rudolf Kuenzli

Inventing Abstraction 1910-1925: How a Radical Idea Changed Modern Art

By Matthew Affron, Leah Dickerman

More Interesting Books about Sophie Taeuber-Arp
Dada Dance: Sophie Taeuber's Visceral Abstraction

By Nell Andrew
Art Journal

A Dada Head of its Time

By Holly Gaboriault
January 5, 2013

Batiactu (in French)

Strasbourg Restaurant
29 July 2008

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Cite this page

Content compiled and written by Linnea West

Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

" Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Linnea West
Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors
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Constructivism
Constructivism
Constructivism
Russian Constructivism emerged with the Revolution of 1917 and sought a new approach to making objects, one which abolished the traditional concern with composition and replaced it with 'construction,' which called for a new attention to the technical character of materials. It was hoped that these inquiries would yield ideas for mass production. The movement was an important influence on geometric abstraction.
TheArtStory: Constructivism
Dada
Dada
Dada
Dada was an artistic and literary movement that emerged in 1916. It arose in reaction to World War I, and the nationalism and rationalism that many thought had led to the War. Influenced by several avant-gardes - Cubism, Futurism, Constructivism, and Expressionism - its output was wildly diverse, ranging from performance art to poetry, photography, sculpture, painting and collage. Emerging first in Zurich, it spread to cities including Berlin, Hanover, Paris, New York and Cologne.
TheArtStory: Dada
Theo van Doesburg
Theo van Doesburg
Theo van Doesburg
Theo van Doesburg was a Dutch artist, who together with Piet Mondrian established the De Stijl movement. Van Doesburg's most famous work experimented with geometric abstraction and archetypal forms. He was also a prominent architect and writer.
TheArtStory: Theo van Doesburg
Cubism
Cubism
Cubism
Cubism was developed by Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque between 1907-1911, and it continued to be highly influential long after its decline. This classic phase has two stages: 'Analytic', in which forms seem to be 'analyzed' and fragmented; and 'Synthetic', in which pre-existing materials such as newspaper and wood veneer are collaged to the surface of the canvas.
TheArtStory: Cubism
Hans Arp
Hans Arp
Hans Arp
Hans Arp (also known as Jean Arp) was a German-French artist who incorporated chance, randomness, and organic forms into his sculptures, paintings, and collages. He was involved with Zurich Dada, Surrealism, and the Abstraction-Creation movement.
TheArtStory: Hans Arp
Modernism and Modern Art
Modernism and Modern Art
Modernism and Modern Art
Modernism in Art is an approach to art making that promoted the new and industrial world, free from derivation and historical references. And for the new to be possible, old movements were often altogether abandoned, or deconstructed.
TheArtStory: Modernism and Modern Art
Tristan Tzara
Tristan Tzara
Tristan Tzara
Tristan Tzara was a Romanian and French poet, playwright, and avant-garde performer who played a key role in the development and founding of Dada. A proponent of pure automatic techniques, he had an at-times contentious relationship with the Surrealism's direction in Paris.
TheArtStory: Tristan Tzara
Max Ernst
Max Ernst
Max Ernst
Max Ernst was a German Dadaist and Surrealist whose paintings and collages combine dream-like realism, automatic techniques, and eerie subject matter.
TheArtStory: Max Ernst
Hannah Höch
Hannah Höch
Hannah Höch
Hannah Hoch was a German-born Dada artist. She and Raoul Hausmann were among the first artists to work in photomontage. Hoch is most famous for her works dating from the Weimar years, most notably 1919's 'Cut with the Dada Kitchen Knife through the Last Weimar Beer-Belly Cultural Epoch in Germany,' which critiqued Weimar Germany.
TheArtStory: Hannah Höch
Francis Picabia
Francis Picabia
Francis Picabia
Francis Picabia was a French artist who worked in Dada, Surrealist, and abstract modes, often employing language and mechanical imagery. He published the Dada journal 391 in Barcelona and America.
TheArtStory: Francis Picabia
Kurt Schwitters
Kurt Schwitters
Kurt Schwitters
Kurt Schwitters was a German artist who was particularly influential in the development of Dada movement and his own offshoot of Dada that he called Merz. Schwitters was heavily involved in the international avant-garde, with artists like El Lissitzky, Hans Arp, and Tristan Tzara.
TheArtStory: Kurt Schwitters
Abstraction Creation
Abstraction Creation
Abstraction Creation
Abstraction Creation was an association of artists dedicated to opposing the influence of Surrealism. The group was founded in 1931 by Theo van Doesburg, Georges Vantongerloo, Auguste Herbin, and Jean Helion in order to promote abstract art.
Abstraction Creation
Feminist Art
Feminist Art
Feminist Art
Feminist art emerged in the 1960s and '70s to explore questions of sex, power, the body, and the ways in which gender categories structure how we see and understand the world. Developing at the same time as many new media strategies, feminist art frequently involves text, installation, and performance elements.
TheArtStory: Feminist Art
Geometric Abstraction
Geometric Abstraction
Geometric Abstraction
Geometric abstraction refers to nonobjective art that is based on reductive and geometric principles. At its purest, it seeks to strip art down to its most fundamental shapes and lines. Artists in many different movements and time periods have worked in this mode.
Geometric Abstraction
Performance Art
Performance Art
Performance Art
Performance is a genre in which art is presented "live," usually by the artist but sometimes with collaborators or performers. It has had a role in avant-garde art throughout the twentieth century, playing an important part in anarchic movements such as Futurism and Dada. It particularly flourished in the 1960s, when Performance artists became preoccupied with the body, but it continues to be an important aspect of art practice.
TheArtStory: Performance Art
Pablo Picasso
Pablo Picasso
Pablo Picasso
Picasso dominated European painting in the first half of the last century, and remains perhaps the century's most important, prolifically inventive, and versatile artist. Alongside Georges Braque, he pioneered Cubism. He also made significant contributions to Surrealist painting and media such as collage, welded sculpture, and ceramics.
TheArtStory: Pablo Picasso
Georges Braque
Georges Braque
Georges Braque
Georges Braque was a modern French painter who, along with Pablo Picasso, developed analytic Cubism and Cubist collage in the early twentieth century.
TheArtStory: Georges Braque
Hugo Ball
Hugo Ball
Hugo Ball
Hugo Ball was a German-born author, poet and artist who is credited with leading the Dada movement in Zurich. In 1916, Ball penned the first Dada Manifesto, and claimed that he coined the term 'Dada' by randomly choosing the word from the dictionary.
TheArtStory: Hugo Ball
Wassily Kandinsky
Wassily Kandinsky
Wassily Kandinsky
A member of the German Expressionist group Der Blaue Reiter, and later a teacher at the Bauhaus, Kandinsky is best known for his pioneering breakthrough into expressive abstraction in 1913. His work prefigures that of the American Abstract Expressionists.
TheArtStory: Wassily Kandinsky
Joan Miró
Joan Miró
Joan Miró
Active in Paris from the 1920s onward, and influenced by Surrealism, Miró developed a style of biomorphic abstraction which blended abstract figurative motifs, large fields of color, and primitivist symbols. This style would be an important inspiration for many Abstract Expressionists.
TheArtStory: Joan Miró
Futurism
Futurism
Futurism
Futurism was the most influential Italian avant-garde movement of the twentieth century. Dedicated to the modern age, it celebrated speed, movement, machinery and violence. At first influenced by Neo-Impressionism, and later by Cubism, some of its members were also drawn to mass culture and nontraditional forms of art.
TheArtStory: Futurism
Laszlo Moholy-Nagy
Laszlo Moholy-Nagy
Laszlo Moholy-Nagy
Laszlo Moholy-Nagy was a Hungarian painter, photographer and teacher at the Bauhaus School. Moholy-Nagy was influential in promoting the Bauhaus's multi- and mixed-media approaches to art, advocating for the integration of technological and industrial design elements.
TheArtStory: Laszlo Moholy-Nagy
Marcel Janco
Marcel Janco
Marcel Janco
Marcel Janco was a Romanian and Israeli visual artist, architect, and art theorist. He was the co-founder of Dada and a proponent of Constructivism in Western Europe, and his work was widely regarded as avant-garde and innovative.
TheArtStory: Marcel Janco
Richard Huelsenbeck
Richard Huelsenbeck
Richard Huelsenbeck
Richard Huelsenbeck was a German poet, writer and musician. He was a founding member of the Berlin Dada group and was the editor of the Dada Almanach. When he later moved to New York City, he practiced Jungian psychoanalysis under the name Charles R. Hulbeck.
Richard Huelsenbeck
Sonia Delaunay
Sonia Delaunay
Sonia Delaunay
Sonia Delauney with her husband Robert Delauney, began the Orphism art movement during the pre-War period, characterized by its use of strong color palettes and geometric, abstract forms. Delaunay's work also popularly incorporated the use of fabric, furniture design and clothing.
TheArtStory: Sonia Delaunay
Robert Delaunay
Robert Delaunay
Robert Delaunay
Robert Delaunay was a French avant-garde painter. Early in his career he was associated with the Expressionist group The Blue Rider along with Kandinsky and Klee. Delaunay's singular style is referred to as Orphism; an approach that combines visual elements of Cubism, Expressionism and figurative abstraction.
TheArtStory: Robert Delaunay
Marcel Duchamp
Marcel Duchamp
Marcel Duchamp
The French artist Marcel Duchamp was an instrumental figure in the avant-garde art worlds of Paris and New York. Moving through Dada, Surrealism, readymades, sculpture, and installation, his work involves conceptual play and an implicit attack on bourgeois art sensibilities.
TheArtStory: Marcel Duchamp
Bauhaus
Bauhaus
Bauhaus
Bauhaus is a style associated with the Bauhaus school, an extremely influential art and design school in Weimar Germany that emphasized functionality and efficiency of design. Its famous faculty - including Joseph Albers and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe - generally rejected distinctions between the fine and applied arts, and encouraged major advances in industrial design.
TheArtStory: Bauhaus
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