Sophie Taeuber-Arp Head 1920

  • MoMA, Floor 5, 505 The Alfred H. Barr, Jr. Galleries

Taeuber-Arp, a pioneering abstract artist, was trained in the applied and fine arts and ascribed equal importance to both. In 1920, at the time Head was made, she was best known for her arts-and-crafts creations, including textile designs, turned-wood containers, beaded necklaces, notebook covers, and bags. Head combines mechanically produced turned-wood pieces and beaded ornaments typically associated with domestic handicrafts to create a sculpture that challenges the boundaries separating craft from fine art.

The work strongly resembles Study for a Marionette (Portrait of H.A.) (1918), an abstract depiction of the artist Jean (Hans) Arp, whom Taeuber-Arp would marry in 1922. Both works have bobbin-shaped bases, trapezoidal noses, oval heads, and cylindrical necks, and they have similar dimensions. This suggests that Head is a counterpart to the earlier work, and a stylized self-portrait. Taeuber-Arp made this sculpture in Zurich, where she had become associated with Dada, a cultural movement that embraced absurdity and abstraction as avenues to a radical rethinking of contemporary social, political, and aesthetic conventions.

Publication excerpt from MoMA Highlights: 375 Works from The Museum of Modern Art, New York (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2019)
Additional text

Walk around this sculpture to see it from all sides. Taeuber-Arp combined a variety of materials—wood, wire, and beads—to make this head, then painted it. Notice the details the artist included and which parts of a head she left out. What do you think the rest of the body would look like?

Kids label from 2019, updated in 2023
Oil on 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
Object number
© 2024 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn
Painting and Sculpture

Installation views

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Provenance Research Project

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The artist
Hans Arp (the artist's husband). Inherited upon his wife’s death, 1943
François Arp
Ruth Tillard Arp
[Claude Guber ?]
Sold at Calmels Cohen auction house, Paris, June 12, 2003, no. 34
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchased at auction, June 2003

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