• Erika Argiolas

Not just Jean Arp's wife. But mostly: Sophie Taeuber

Sophie Taeuber-Arp, with “Dada-Head” from 1920, has long been eclipsed by her husband, Jean (Hans) Arp. Her work is now coming out of his shadow, starting online at Hauser & Wirth gallery.Credit...Stiftung Arp e.V., Berlin/Rolandswerth/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; Hauser and Wirth; Nic Aluf

Sophie Taeuber-Arp was born on 19 January 1889 in Davos to a middle-class family, her father died when she was just 2 years old. Her amateur artist mother encourages her to devote herself to the arts and creativity.

Between 1911 and 1913 Taeuber was enrolled in an experimental art workshop in Munich. Then she later moved to Zurich to study textile design and modern dance. By 1916 she had already acquired a particular routine: during the day she created and occasionally exhibited her paintings and drawings; she taught embroidery and textile design at the School of Applied Arts, while she studying dance at the Rudolf von Laban International Dance School. At night, however, she performed in dada extravaganzas under a pseudonym.

Unfortunately Taeuber belongs to the circle of women that escapes history.

One of those classic women who is merely celebrate as the wife of a great artist, as in this case Hans Arp. But Taeuber wasn't just Arp's wife, she was much more. She was the author of fabrics with extraordinary geometric patterns, painter, dancer and creator of fabulous puppets. She was choreographer, architect and author of a house that between 1926 and 1929 influenced Le Corbusier who contributed in some way to a deviation in the direction of his formal research.

Sophie Taeuber, Zurich, 1916/17. Stiftung Hans Arp und Sophie Taeuber-Arp e.V., Rolandswerth (photographer unknown; photograph provided by Stiftung Hans Arp und Sophie Taeuber-Arp

We find her in the years of the Cabaret Voltaire and at the opening of the Dada gallery in 1917 when she was portrayed in the act of dancing, wearing a mask designed by Marcel Janco.

In 1926, the architect Paul Horn and his brother André gave her the task of decorating and furnishing the east wing of the Café de l'Aubette in Strasbourg, since at that time Taeuber was particularly dedicated to various projects of interior design. In the assignment she was joined by her husband and the Dutch De Stijl, thus recreating at the end of the works an environment that for the first time embodied and integrated modernist ideas of art and functionality.

Emmy Hennings described the experience of visiting the Aubette:

The walls, covered with paintings, give the illusion of almost endlessly vast rooms. Here painting makes the visitor dream, it awakens the depths in us. The house may become a treasure box, a reliquary, and one can always look at it with new eyes... It is ike owning the lamp with which Aladdin lighted the marvellous cave.

Sophie Taeuber-Arp, Composition of Circles and Overlapping Angles, 1930.

Despite the trauma of the two wars, the Taeuber's approach to art was always particularly joyful.

She always took inspiration from any element available to her, exploring its creative potential, without bowing her head in front of the traditional hierarchies of arts and crafts of that period. Her works are pulsating in rhythm and colors, her dance movements recall sculpture, while a collage could turn into a carpet, or a watercolor could turn into a bedspread.

Sophie Taeuber-Arp Plate from 10 Origin 1942

Although her approach to art can be considered an anticipation of abstraction, the use of geometry in her works is never rigid and austere.

The lines that appear straight actually sway and float and the primary colors crowd together and scream for attention.

Inspired by nature, her work, even the most abstract, refers to the earth, the wave motion of the seas and the vastness of the blue sky.

She wrote:

"In a flower, in a beetle, every line, every form, every colour has arisen from a deep necessity"

During her, albeit brief, existence Taeuber lived immersed in art, which served as a source of relief, as a symbol of countless possibilities. Giving space to her desire for improvisation in which to feel free to experiment and express herself to the best of her ability.

Sophie Taeuber-Arp and Hans Arp, Ascona 1925

She died at the young age of 53 due to accidental carbon monoxide poisoning at the home of her friend Max Bill.

An inconsolable Hans said, recalling the early years together, “We humbly tried to approach the pure radiance of reality. I would like to title these works as “works of silence”… We wanted to simplify and transmute the world and make it more beautiful ”.

Wassily Kandinsky said: "Sophie Taeuber-Arp expressed herself by means of the 'colored relief,' especially in the last years of her life, using almost exclusively the simplest forms, geometric forms. The forms, by their sobriety, their silence, their way of being sufficient unto themselves, invite the hand, if it is skillful, to use the language that is suitable to it and which is often only a whisper; but often too the whisper is more expressive, more convincing, more persuasive, than the 'loud voice' that here and there lets itself burst out.

Sophie Taeuber-Arp will see her first Uk retrospective comes to Tate. It brings together her principal works from major collections in Europe and the US, most of which have never been seen in this country before.

Presented in The Eyal Ofer Galleries. Supported by Tate Members. Organised by Tate Modern, The Museum of Modern Art, and Kunstmuseum Basel


Sophie Taeuber-Arp: Living Abstraction

Published in conjunction with the first retrospective of Taeuber-Arp’s work in the United States in nearly forty years, and the first-ever retrospective in the United Kingdom, Sophie Taeuber-Arp: Living Abstraction is the most comprehensive survey of this multifaceted abstract artist’s innovative and wide-ranging body of work. The catalogue explores the artist’s interdisciplinary and cross-pollinating approach to abstraction through some 400 works, including textiles, beadwork, polychrome marionettes, architectural and interior designs, stained glass windows, works on paper, paintings, and relief sculptures.

Sophie Taeuber-Arp

Sophie Taeuber-Arp Coloring Book (Women of Art History Coloring Books)


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