Sophie Taeuber-Arp: Living Abstraction

Sophie Taeuber-Arp. *Vertical-Horizontal Composition*. c. 1917. Wool on canvas. 18 7/8 x 11 5/8" (48 x 29.5 cm). Private collection, on long-term loan to the Aargauer Kunsthaus Aarau, Switzerland. Courtesy Aargauer Kunsthaus Aarau, photo Peter Schälchli.

Sophie Taeuber-Arp. Vertical-Horizontal Composition. c. 1917 363

Wool on canvas. 18 7/8 x 11 5/8" (48 x 29.5 cm). Private collection, on long-term loan to the Aargauer Kunsthaus Aarau, Switzerland. Courtesy Aargauer Kunsthaus Aarau, photo Peter Schälchli

Curator, Anne Umland: Taeuber-Arp made this needlepoint and the related painting nearby, around 1917. At that point, she was 28 years old. She had grown up in the St. Gallen area of Switzerland, which is renowned for its textiles, and she had attended a progressive Arts and Crafts school in Germany. For a textile designer, everything begins with the support fabric, composed of vertical and horizontal threads—essentially a grid.

Here’s Conservator Annie Wilker on Taeuber-Arp’s process:

Conservator, Annie Wilker: She used graph paper to design many of her textile projects. It was a tool she could use to transfer her ideas from one material to another, but it was also a creative tool that she could work against and play off of. Rectangles, squares, verticals, and horizontals are all prevalent in her art and all share the same basic geometry found in a sheet of graph paper.

Anne Umland: Taeuber-Arp's primary insight as an artist is that that grid, that simple organizing structure, could become the basis for a new language of abstraction.

She moves to Zurich during World War I because Switzerland's neutral, so it was a safe haven. She set out soon upon arriving to make a name for herself. She was determined from early on that she was going to be independent and not beholden to a man or a husband for supporting herself. So in 1916, she begins to teach at Zurich's trade school. She taught embroidery and textile design and she began exhibiting her works and gaining a good deal of recognition for that.

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