Sophie Taeuber-Arp: Living Abstraction

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Deramo, The King (marionette for King Stag)

Sophie Taeuber-Arp. Deramo, The King (marionette for King Stag). 1918

Oil and metallic paint on wood; fabric; brass sheet; bells; metal hardware. 23 1/16 × 5 1/2 × 31 5/16" (58.5 × 14 × 10 cm). Museum für Gestaltung, Zürcher Hochschule der Künste, Zurich. Decorative Arts Collection. Courtesy Museum für Gestaltung Zürich, ZHdK

Curatorial Assistant, Laura Braverman: In the winter of 1918, Taeuber-Arp was asked to design the marionettes and stage sets for an adaptation of the 18th century play King Stag.

My name is Laura Braverman, and I'm a curatorial assistant in the Department of Painting and Sculpture.

The play was updated as a humorous take on psychoanalysis. The magician in the original play becomes a character called Freudanalyticus. And he has an alter ego, which is a little parrot. And Sigmund Freud himself often worked with birds in his dreams, which symbolized sexual arousal. So the connection between his character and the parrot, it's actually a very funny one.

What I love about their design is how Taeuber-Arp highlighted the relationships between the different characters with the use of similar forms and colors. So, the King Deramo, who is sitting on his little stool, has the same golden eyes as his lover, Angela, and the King Stag, which he turns into at one point in the play.

The play premiered in September of 1918 in Zurich. However, the theater had to close, due to the Spanish flu pandemic. The organizers of the play thought the puppets were way too modern but writers and artists associated with the Dada movement were very quick to praise the marionettes. This was an important turning point for Taeuber-Arp's career and in shaping how she saw her work.

Curator, Anne Umland: Enter 3652 and press play to hear conservator Lynda Zycherman discuss how these marionettes were made.