Sophie Taeuber-Arp Head 1920

  • MoMA, Floor 5, 509 The David Geffen Wing

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)
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
Object number
© 2020 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn
Painting and Sculpture

Installation views

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Provenance Research Project

This work is included in the Provenance Research Project, which investigates the ownership history of works in MoMA's collection.

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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