Reckoning with Meret Oppenheim
Read four responses to the influential artist’s provocative work.
Meret Oppenheim (1913–1985) was a visionary artist who worked across mediums and refused to adhere to a single style. The scope of her influence is similarly varied. Her objects, jewelry and clothing designs, drawings, paintings, and sculptures continue to inspire and provoke artists and makers in diverse fields and disciplines.
Her Object (1936), the best-known work in a six-decade-long career, remains a cornerstone of MoMA’s collection, and is currently on view in Meret Oppenheim: My Exhibition. This full-career retrospective brings together nearly 200 rarely seen works of art, spanning the artist’s teenage years in Switzerland to the 1980s, when she traveled widely and gained an international audience.
Oppenheim died in 1985, but her combining of found forms, concepts, and materials into revelatory new arrangements remains unusually precise, offering commentary on her social reality while conjuring other worlds and fantasies, and often remarking on the experience of being a woman.
On the occasion of her retrospective, we asked two visual artists, two fashion designers, and a lifetime friend and collaborator of the artist to reflect on Oppenheim’s creative legacy.
Wangechi Mutu. One Cut. 2018
By the time Meret Oppenheim was born in Berlin in 1913, the world was about to fall completely apart, again. The First World War began in 1914, when she was only a year old, and would end when she was five.
Thirty years prior to Oppenheim’s birth, the Berlin Conference—a meeting organized by several European empires—took place in her home city. The idea was to carve up the African continent into pieces of colonized space and distribute these territories among the companies controlled by these foreigners.
In turn, this project was preceded some decades earlier by decisions to finally abolish the lucrative, insane, and violent business of stealing, shipping, and selling human beings from Africa for unpaid, unregulated labor.
The scramble for Africa introduced a whole new crop of businesses. Resources were badly needed to grow the northern nations’ ravenous industries and exploding populations, and the wealth of the African continent was the bounty they sought for this gluttonous banquet.
Meret Oppenheim signing 150 pairs of gloves in Zurich, 1985
River L. Ramirez. ALIVE!. 2022
I was inspired to share this piece after seeing Meret Oppenheims’s drawings at the exhibition at MoMA. To see how integral drawing was to her more realized works really spoke to me. I made this drawing while isolating in NY during the height of the pandemic. It’s beautiful when drawing and mark-making can feel so present day, but also linked to a specific time and place and feeling. I wanted to be in conversation with Oppenheim’s work, traveling through time to the intimacy of the artist staring at a piece of paper and making a mark to build on later. Or just making a mark to prove her existence in that moment.
—River L. Ramirez, artist, comedian, and writer
The Art of Retrospection: Meret Oppenheim’s “Imaginary Exhibition” Drawings, 1983
Read an excerpt from the Meret Oppenheim: My Exhibition exhibition catalogue.
Anne Umland, Lee Colón
Oct 26, 2022
Hounding the Mad Beast of Function
A book excerpt, audio, and a podcast delve into Meret Oppenheim’s fur-covered cup.
Nov 18, 2020