Sophie Taeuber-Arp, critic of Tate Modern
The quirky design makes them appear to mix, push, float, or bounce; you feel light and dizzy just looking at them.
Even in times of war, she could blackmail her work. In Geometric and undulating lines 1941 the spaghetti-shaped ropes rise like flames on pointed triangles; the whole image seems to be on fire. It is one of a series of drawings she made on the hoof as she and her husband, Jean Arp, kept one step ahead of the German forces invading France, where they lived. The image could be a reflection of the flames that envelop Europe, but it is also a provocative affirmation of creativity.
Taeuber-Arp didn’t start painting until his late thirties; before that she was busy doing other things. Born in Switzerland in 1889, she studied fine and applied arts in Munich and expressive dance at the Rudolf Laban School in Zurich. With the outbreak of war in 1914, Zurich became a hotbed of radical art. Kurt Schwitters, Hugo Ball and Tristan Zara are among those who took refuge there and created Dada, a movement whose absurd title was intended to offend warmongers.
Taeuber-Arp performed in the absurd cabarets of Dada at the Café Voltaire. Dressed in a mask and cardboard costume, she accompanied Hugo Ball’s abstract sound poems with a dance he described as “full of lightning and edges, full of dazzling light and penetrating intensity ”. Unfortunately, the only recording is a photograph, but you can get a feel for his movements by watching the video, released at the exit of the show, of his glorious puppets in action.
They were ordered in 1918 for King Deer, an 18th century play adapted to become an ironic look at psychoanalysis. Taeuber-Arp was skilled at turning wood by hand, and the puppets consist of wooden cylinders and cones connected by numerous joints that allow them to move with jerky fluidity. (in photo below: installation shot by Seraphina Neville).
She also made wooden sculptures – egg-shaped heads painted with schematic lines (photo above right: the artist at the head of Dada, 1920) and abstract shapes that are doubled as cups or bowls. The distinctions between fine and applied arts did not interest him. She was already recognized as a textile designer and taught applied arts at the Trade School in Zurich. Her designs for embroidery, tapestries, rugs and cushion covers are exquisite little abstracts that any Modernist painting would be proud of, while her beaded bags and necklaces are to die for. Everything she has done has clarity, wit, and grace; she had a magical touch.
His first large-scale order came in 1926. It involved refitting a wing of the Aubette building, an entertainment complex in Strasbourg. She decorated the walls and floors of a tea room and two bars with a syncopated pattern of vibrant geometric shapes, creating spaces similar to 3D paintings. Other orders followed, including a series of richly colored stained-glass windows for the house of collector André Horn.
As a result, she was able to buy land outside of Paris and set out to design a house and studios for herself and her husband, with modular furniture. It quickly became a meeting place for artists and designers, including Sonia Delaunay, a soul mate whose skills spanned both art and design. Surrealist Max Ernst visited writers James Joyce and Tristan Tzara.
Contact with the Parisian art scene encouraged Taeuber-Arp to start painting and she soon exhibited alongside international modernists like Mondrian, Kandinsky and Le Corbusier. His work is totally abstract but in a way suggests human activity. In Six spaces with four small crosses, 1932 (photo below) she uses tilting planes to transform flat squares into ambiguous spaces reminiscent of architectural structures or a playground. Balance,1934 is reminiscent of a juggler keeping several balls in the air. her playfulness and light touch are typical of everything she does; This would make an appropriate emblem for this incredible polymath.
Only 53 years old and at the height of her powers, she was tragically killed by carbon monoxide poisoning from a faulty stove. One would have thought that her international reputation as an architect, designer and artist would have secured her a place in the history books but, as is so often the case with women artists, she was quickly forgotten by artists. curators, critics and male historians and excluded from the dossier.
This show is therefore both a revelation and a delight. It shouldn’t be; Sophie Taeuber-Arp should be as well known as the other pioneers of modernism, but only now is she receiving the recognition she deserves for her incredible achievements. More and more women are being rescued from oblivion thanks to the efforts of art historians, but I wonder how many more are molding in the dusty notes of art history still waiting for their contributions to be recognized.