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)
Walk around this sculpture to see it from all sides. Sophie Taeuber-Arp combined ordinary materials—wood, wire, and beads—to make this head, then painted it. What materials did she use to make the nose? Can you find an eye? Taeuber-Arp included some details but left others out. What do you think the rest of the body might look like?
Gallery label from For Kids, 2019