Dada Head


Sophie Taeuber-Arp

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Dada Head

Sophie Taeuber-Arp. Dada Head. 1920. Painted wood with glass beads on wire, 9 1/4" high (23.5 cm). Mrs. John Hay Whitney Bequest (by exchange) and Committee on Painting and Sculpture Funds. © 2014 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

Audio Program excerpt


June 18–September 11, 2006

Curator, Anne Umland: This diminutive Dada Head was made by Sophie Taeuber, who was one of the only female participants in Zurich Dada. Taeuber's background was in decorative painting, drawing, and textile design. In fact, she was one of the first among the Zurich Dadaists to very clearly demonstrate the way that the applied arts could contribute to the development of abstract art.

This work is made from turned wood: an oval head, a thin, columnar neck, and this wasp-wasted, bobbin-like base put together to comprise an unconventional portrait bust. The features of this head are applied with beautiful coloration and paint details. Taeuber is often said to have been inspired by the stylized features of Oceanic and Northwest Indian masks.

Narrator: With its beaded accessories and muted colors, this work may actually be a self-portrait—a counterpart to Taeuber's portrait of her husband Hans Arp [...].

Curator, Anne Umland: Many of the Zurich Dadaists sought to go beyond mere external appearances, beyond superficial details, to arrive at deeper notions of resemblance—something that gets away from quotidian detail, and can speak on a more universal plane.

Anne Umland, Report on purchase, Department of Painting and Sculpture, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2003

Sophie Taeuber-Arp was born in Davos, Switzerland, in 1889.... Her first significant works were realized within the heady milieu of Zurich Dada. She was a key participant in the Dadaists activities with her companion Hans Arp....

It was during Taeuber-Arp's Zurich periods that she created her famous Dada Heads, forms of turned wood resembling the dummies of haberdashers and hairdressers, which she painted with highly stylized angular and curvilinear patterns. Taeuber-Arp called these works "portraits," though they show none of the interest in naturalistic, physical resemblance usually associated with the genre. Instead, their simple, elegantly severe shapes and colorful geometric designs combine to create mask-like faces, which evoke the ornamentation on Oceanic and Northwest Coast Indian artifacts. Incisively witty, Taeuber-Arp's Dada Heads are quintessential Dada objects, polychromed sculptures that might double as hat stands, described by Hugo Weber as a "feminine nuance of the Dada game: nonsense with a utilitarian purpose."(1)

1. Hugo Weber, in Georg Schmidt, ed., Sophie Taeuber-Arp (Basel: Holbein Verlag, 1948), p. 125.

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