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Surrealist Objects and Assemblage

Discover how everyday objects, arranged unexpectedly, became triggers for unlocking the subconscious mind.


Object

Meret Oppenheim
(Swiss, 1913–1985)

1936. Fur-covered cup, saucer, and spoon, Cup 4 3/8" (10.9 cm) in diameter; saucer 9 3/8" (23.7 cm) in diameter; spoon 8" (20.2 cm) long, overall height 2 7/8" (7.3 cm)

In 1936, the Swiss artist Meret Oppenheim was at a café in Paris with her friends Pablo Picasso and Dora Maar. Oppenheim was wearing a bracelet she had made from fur-lined, polished metal tubing. Picasso joked that one could cover anything with fur, to which Oppenheim replied, “Even this cup and saucer.” As her tea grew cold, she reportedly called out, “Waiter, a little more fur!”1 Soon after, Oppenheim bought a cup, saucer, and spoon at a department store and lined them with fur, transforming these traditionally genteel household objects into sculpture.

Object caused a sensation when it was presented in 1936 at the first Exposition of Surrealist Objects in Paris. Some viewers declared it “the quintessential Surrealist object” of the show; many more derided it. Oppenheim was herself ambivalent about the work, declaring it a youthful joke on more than one occasion. Overwhelmed by the publicity Object received, Oppenheim greatly inhibited her creative production for the next two decades.

Josephine Withers, “The Famous Fur-Lined Teacup and the Anonymous Meret Oppenheim” (New York: Arts Magazine, Vol. 52, November 1977), 88–93

A literary, intellectual, and artistic movement that began in Paris in 1924 and was active through World War II. Influenced by Sigmund Freud’s writings on psychology, Surrealists, led by André Breton, were interested in how the irrational, unconscious mind could move beyond the constraints of the rational world. Surrealism grew out of dissatisfaction with traditional social values and artistic practices after World War I.

It’s a Man’s World?
As a female artist in the male-dominated art world, Meret Oppenheim was often mistakenly referred to as “Mr. Oppenheim” by critics and admirers of her work. Intimately scaled, concave in shape, and soft to the touch, Object may be a conscious parody of the prevailing “masculinity” of traditional sculpture, with its hard surfaces, verticality, and grand scale.

Firsts
Oppenheim’s Object was the first work by a female artist to be acquired by The Museum of Modern Art.

Multimedia

LISTEN UP!
AUDIO: Artist Jenny Holzer and Curator Anne Umland discuss Object