Swiss Multi-media, applied arts, performance artist, and textile designer
Summary of Sophie Taeuber-Arp
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.
- 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.
Biography of Sophie Taeuber-Arp
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.
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.
Influences and Connections
Useful Resources on Sophie Taeuber-Arp
- Sophie Taeuber-ArpOur PickBy Carolyn Lanchner
- The Dada Painters and Poets: An AnthologyBy Robert Motherwell
- DadaBy Rudolf Kuenzli
- Inventing Abstraction 1910-1925: How a Radical Idea Changed Modern ArtBy Matthew Affron, Leah Dickerman
- Intimate Collaborations: Kandinsky and Munter, Arp and TaeuberOur PickBy Bibiana Obler