The Tate Modern is full of colour this week with the opening of a major exhibition exploring the life and work of Sophie Taeuber-Arp. As a founding member of the Dada movement, Taeuber-Arp’s cross-discipline creativity and experimentation integrated art, life, abstraction, and absurdity. The exhibition will celebrate a wide selection of her work, including pieces of design and textiles which have often been overlooked in favour of her better-known paintings and sculptures.
During the first world war Zurich, as well as being a refuge for pacifists and intellectuals, became a hive of Avant Garde artistic creativity. This is where Taeuber-Arp found herself in 1914, having been born in Switzerland twenty-seven years earlier. Surrounded by other likeminded artists who had either fled the chaos of conflict or been exiled, she became part of a circle of creatives whose experimentation and abstraction created the movement of Dada.
With their opening of the Cabaret Voltaire in February 1916, Taeuber-Arp and friends including Hugo Ball, Emmy Hennings and partner Jean, founded the movement with their experimental performances of art, music, and spoken word. Taeuber-Arp was heavily involved in the Cabaret, performing dance and experimental pieces as well as designing sets and props; marionettes that she created for the avant-garde 1918 interpretation of the play ‘King Stag’ are on display at the exhibition. The 17 marionettes, which have never been shown all together in the UK before, are extremely intricate creations. Despite their delicacy, being over a hundred years old, the exhibition will also show a video of them in action, as they were at the play for its three performances, before it had to be stopped due to the ongoing pandemic of the Spanish Flu.
The cabaret’s abstract experimentation culminated with Ball’s ‘Dada Manifesto’ in July of the same year, and, despite the closing of the Cabaret Voltaire, Dadaism continued through its creators. As Taeuber-Arp began teaching weaving and textile arts at the local university, her experimentation into different mediums developed; her textile and graphic works from this period are considered as some of the earliest pieces of Constructivism, together with those of Mondrian and Malevich.
This expansion into design continued to develop throughout the 1920s, as she brought abstract forms and primary colours to both architecture and interior design. The exhibition at the Tate is showcasing this variation in mediums, with over 200 objects from collections across Europe and America, showing how she ‘blazed a new path for the development of abstraction’. The final room of the exhibition features works she created while on the move and in exile, demonstrating her ability to ‘embrace new materials and methods in a way that remains hugely influential for artists today’. This notion of adaptability seems highly apt for artists today, having had to have spent a year of creativity within the confines of their own homes.
The exhibition, which is in collaboration with The Museum of Modern Art in New York, and Kunstmuseum in Basel, will be on display until the 17th of October, further details are available at https://www.tate.org.uk/sophie-taeuber-arp