In 1927, Sophie Taeuber-Arp wrote, “The desire to enrich and beautify things cannot be interpreted materialistically, that is, in the sense of increasing their value as possessions; rather, it stems from the instinct for perfection and the creative act.” 1 Over the course of her career, she demonstrated this desire to make beautiful things, with a level of precision that would become her hallmark, in a wide variety of artistic pursuits. She worked as a designer of textiles, beadwork, costumes, furniture, and interiors, as well as an applied arts teacher, puppet maker, architect, painter, sculptor, illustrator, and magazine editor. Through her artistic output and professional alliances, she consistently challenged the historical boundaries separating fine art from craft and design.
After training at the interdisciplinary Debschitz School in Munich, Taeuber-Arp returned to her native Switzerland in 1914 and launched a successful applied arts practice. The following year, she began attending Rudolf von Laban’s influential school for expressionist dance, and met her future husband, the Alsatian artist and poet Jean (Hans) Arp, with whom she frequently collaborated for the rest of her life. Taeuber-Arp became an active participant in the Zurich Dada movement, initiated by Arp and other exiles who found refuge in the Swiss city during World War I. In order to support herself and Arp, she taught textile design at the School of Applied Arts in Zurich from 1916 to 1929. In 1918, Taeuber-Arp was commissioned by the school’s director to design marionettes for a modern adaptation of the 18th-century commedia dell’arte play King Stag; celebrated by her contemporaries, these painted turned-wood figures appeared in a variety of avant-garde publications during her lifetime. Taeuber-Arp’s group of related sculptures of abstracted heads are today considered icons of the Dada period.
In the late 1920s and early 1930s, Taeuber-Arp embarked on several architectural and interior design projects, most significantly a collaboration with Arp and the Dutch artist Theo van Doesburg on the ambitious decoration of the Aubette entertainment complex in Strasbourg, France. In 1929, Taeuber-Arp left Zurich for Paris, where she turned her attention to abstract paintings and painted wood reliefs that employ a reduced geometric vocabulary; these works display a tension between precision and playfulness that is characteristic of her artistic production. During the 1930s, she was associated with two groups of artists likewise devoted to abstraction, Cercle et Carré and Abstraction-Création, and edited the short-lived international journal Plastique/Plastic.
Taeuber-Arp spent her final years in exile in the South of France during the Nazi occupation. In this last phase of her career, she contributed to the print portfolios 5 Constructionen + 5 Compositionen and 10 Origin, published by the association of Swiss modern artists Allianz, and made a series of exuberant line drawings that appear improvised but are actually precisely planned and executed. After Taeuber-Arp’s accidental death by carbon monoxide poisoning in 1943, Arp worked to promote her legacy, in part by producing a number of posthumous “re-creations” of her artworks.
Charlotte Healy, Research Assistant, Department of Painting and Sculpture
Sophie Taeuber-Arp and Blanche Gauchat, “Guidelines for Drawing Instruction in the Textile Professions” (1927), in Sophie Taeuber-Arp: Avant-Garde Pathways, ed. Estrella de Diego (Málaga, Spain: Museo Picasso, 2009), 167–68. For the original German text, see S. H. Arp-Taeuber and Blanche Gauchat, Anleitung zum Unterricht im Zeichnen für textile Berufe (Zurich: Gewerbeschule der Stadt Zürich, 1927).
Jun 12–Sep 18, 2016
Designing Modern Women 1890–1990
Oct 5, 2013–Oct 19, 2014
Painting and Sculpture Changes 2013
Jan 1–Dec 31, 2013
Inventing Abstraction, 1910–1925
Dec 23, 2012–Apr 15, 2013
Century of the Child: Growing by Design, 1900–2000
Jul 29–Nov 5, 2012
- Sophie Taeuber-Arp has online.
If you would like to reproduce an image of a work of art in MoMA’s collection, or an image of a MoMA publication or archival material (including installation views, checklists, and press releases), please contact Art Resource (publication in North America) or Scala Archives (publication in all other geographic locations).
All requests to license audio or video footage produced by MoMA should be addressed to Scala Archives at firstname.lastname@example.org. Motion picture film stills or motion picture footage from films in MoMA’s Film Collection cannot be licensed by MoMA/Scala. For licensing motion picture film footage it is advised to apply directly to the copyright holders. For access to motion picture film stills please contact the Film Study Center. More information is also available about the film collection and the Circulating Film and Video Library.
If you would like to reproduce text from a MoMA publication or moma.org, please email email@example.com. If you would like to publish text from MoMA’s archival materials, please fill out this permission form and send to firstname.lastname@example.org.