The Erotic Object: Surrealist Sculpture from the Collection
June 24, 2009–January 4, 2010
This Surrealist object was inspired by a conversation between Oppenheim and artists Pablo Picasso and Dora Maar at a Paris cafe. Admiring Oppenheim's fur-covered bracelet, Picasso remarked that one could cover anything with fur, to which she replied, "Even this cup and saucer." Soon after, when asked by André Breton, Surrealism's leader, to participate in the first Surrealist exhibition dedicated to objects, Oppenheim bought a teacup, saucer, and spoon at a department store and covered them with the fur of a Chinese gazelle. In so doing, she transformed genteel items traditionally associated with feminine decorum into sensuous, sexually punning tableware.
MoMA Audio Collection, 2008, 519
Director, Glenn Lowry: Artist Jenny Holzer spoke about Meret Oppenheim's Object in 1988 at The Museum of Modern Art.
Jenny Holzer: This is an everyday object, but its also an otherworldly thing. It's sinister. It seems like a cup that could fight back. I suppose fur implies teeth, and so the cup could bite you, and I also like that its repulsive. When youre eating, there is nothing more disgusting than when you get hair in your mouth. I like that the fur would be a way to muffle sound. It's like she killed off the chit chat part of the tea ceremony. I think that it basically tells you that life is not what it seems.
Curator, Anne Umland: I think Jenny Holzer's quote touches on so many things that have contributed to the enduring fascination that this diminutive object has held for generations now. Created in 1936 in Paris it has a title bestowed upon it by André Bréton, the high pope of Surrealism, who called it "the lunch in fur."
Apparently purchased at a Paris department store, the teacup was then lined with the pelt of a Chinese gazelle. This whole notion about animating the inanimate, of something thats very familiar, safe, comfortingthat you normally encounter in a domestic situation, then like in a bad dream sprouts fur, and becomes this other, this thingis key to the way the piece works. It brings together bizarre, erotic, poetic connotations that are completely foreign, normally, to your prosaic teacup and saucer. This object reverses all sorts of expectations.
The Museum of Modern Art, MoMA Highlights, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, revised 2004, originally published 1999, p. 155
Oppenheim's fur-lined teacup is perhaps the single most notorious Surrealist object. Its subtle perversity was inspired by a conversation between Oppenheim, Pablo Picasso, and the photographer Dora Maar at a Paris café: admiring Oppenheim's fur-trimmed bracelets, Picasso remarked that one could cover just about anything with fur. "Even this cup and saucer," Oppenheim replied.
In the 1930s, many Surrealist artists were arranging found objects in bizarre combinations that challenged reason and summoned unconscious and poetic associations. Object—titled Le Déjeuner en fourrure (The lunch in fur ) by the Surrealist leader André Breton—is a cup and saucer that was purchased at a Paris department store and lined with the pelt of a Chinese gazelle. The work takes advantage of differences in the varieties of sensual pleasure: fur may delight the touch but it repels the tongue. And a cup and spoon, of course, are made to be put in the mouth.
A small concave object covered with fur, Object may also have a sexual connotation and politics: working in a male-dominated art world, perhaps Oppenheim was mocking the prevailing "masculinity" of sculpture, which conventionally adopts a hard substance and vertical orientation that can be seen as almost absurdly self-referential. Chic, wry, and simultaneously attractive and disturbing, Object is shrewdly and quietly aggressive.