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Important Art by Sophie Taeuber-Arp
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.
Unlike other textiles at this time, Elementary Forms was made to hang on a wall. Treating an embroidery like a painting was an innovation. Taeuber-Arp tried to erode notions about what materials could be used to create art. The obvious weft changes how the viewer sees the decorative embroidery, forcing one to consider its texture and the implication of the hand that made it. Taeuber-Arp takes radical notions of non-representational art and applies their tenets of color and form to traditional woman's work. In this avant-garde pursuit, she is unexpectedly enabled by traditional gender roles. Her position as a textile designer (a female occupation) was an asset because the applied arts were granted more freedom to pursue abstraction (patterns, decorative borders) than the fine arts were, as abstraction was contentious and often unrecognized as art. Designs such as this allowed her to demonstrate her complex understanding of color and shape. Elementary Forms is one of her earliest Constructivist works. The embroidery shows the complex intermixing of art and design that she pursued without differentiation. The title refers to the language then common in the dialogue around abstraction, which sought to connect to the eternal and fundamental building blocks of the universe.
This photograph represents the advent of abstract dance in the 1910s. Masks were intended to free the dancer's spirit, and it has been suggested that the costume was richly colored in blue, red, white, and brown as well as silver and gold. The geometric, restrictive forms on her top half make movement ungainly, in contrast to the greater freedom of movement around her legs. Modern dance teacher von Laban had expanded Taeuber-Arp's understanding of dance to include intuitive and abstract movements. These unstructured forms broke from the common language of dance, paralleling the Dada attempt to break from established language and art forms of a flawed and broken social system. Like a noise poem, dance invoked nonsense to counter the established order. In contrast to the aspirations of eternality and monumentality of static works, dance highlights the tragi-comic aspect of Dada. Taeuber-Arp brought Dada's protest to the body dancing under the name G. Thauber. Neutered and made anonymous by the costume, her female body is an absurd protest and a live abstraction - fractured and hobbled like the broken world around her.
The photograph is the only visual evidence of Taeuber-Arp's activity as a dancer and one of the very few existing photographs of early Dada performance. Scholars debate if it was taken in 1916 at the Caberet Voltaire or in 1917 at the Galerie Dada, and who made the costume and mask. Regardless, it represents an important and prolific part of Dada activity. It has been theorized that the ambiguity of the photograph's reference - when and where it was taken - is what makes it such a fine example of Dada dancing. It is impossible to fix the meaning of the image or the figure, allowing every viewer to experience, and interpret, it for themselves.