Sophie Taeuber-Arp Gets London Museum Debut as Market Catches Up
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Sophie Taeuber-Arp Gets London Museum Debut as Market Catches Up

By Laurie Barron| London, 13 July 2021

Tate Modern spotlights Sophie Taeuber-Arp (1889–1943) in a major retrospective (15 July–17 October 2021), her first-ever museum survey in London, delving into the artist's polymathic practice as a defining and prolific figure of the European avant-garde.

Painting, sculpture, dance, performance, interior design are just a few of the fields Taeuber-Arp traversed in her three-decade creative career. This exhibition, which has travelled from Kunstmuseum Basel, and will tour to Museum of Modern Art in New York, includes over 200 mixed-media works sourced from European and American collections.

Sophie Taeuber-Arp, Colored Gradation (1939). Oil on canvas. 64.8 x 50 cm. Kunstmuseum Bern. Gift of Marguerite Arp-Hagenbach. Courtesy Tate.

Born in Davos, Switzerland, Arp was encouraged at a young age by her mother, an amateur artist, to move to Munich to study the arts. Before long, she left, heading to Zürich to focus on textile design and modern dance. At this moment, Switzerland was a hub for the avant-garde, where many artists sought refuge from the horrors of the First World War.

It was here that Arp met her husband and lifelong collaborator, Jean (Hans) Arp. The pair mutually ingratiated and pioneered the Dada philosophy—embracing multidisciplinary creativity and celebrating individuality at a time of harrowing oppression.

Arp would paint by day and perform by night. A rare photograph on view by Nicolai Aluf, Sophie Taeuber with her Dada head (1920) depicts the artist with one of her most radical textile sculptures at a theatrical soirée in the city. At this time, the Arps were also developing inspiring friendships with key figures of the period, such as Sonia and Robert Delaunay, Marcel Duchamp, and Wassily Kandinsky.

Sophie Taeuber-Arp, Stag (marionette for 'King Stag') (1918). Oil paint on wood; brass sheet; metallic paint on metallic paper; metal hardware. 50 × 17.8 × 18 cm. Museum für Gestaltung, Zürcher Hochschule der Künste, Zurich. Decorative Arts Collection. Courtesy Tate.

Other works on view such as Composition of Circles and Overlapping Angles (1930) and Flight: Round Relief in Three Heights (1937) allude to constructivist form in their sharp geometric abstraction, yet Arp did not see 'abstraction as an end in itself'. Round forms appear in many of the artist's works—circles were her favourite shape—metaphorically alluding to unity, infinity, and the cosmos.

Tate is dedicating an entire room to standout sculptural works such as Stag, a magnificently tactile and ethereal marionette, produced for a performative interpretation of Carlo Gozzi's avant-garde play König Hirsch (King Stag) in 1918.

Writing in Tate Etc., Jennifer Higgie notes that Arp was 'indifferent to traditional hierarchies of art and craft. Her paintings throb with rhythm, her dancing echoed sculptures, a collage might become a rug or a watercolour inspire a bedspread.' Arp's interdisciplinary approach—dissolving the boundaries between 'craft' and 'fine art'—has been a clear influence on contemporary artists, from Anni Albers and Sheila Hicks to Ulla von Brandenburg and Haegue Yang.

Sophie Taeuber-Arp, Vase Bearer (c. 1916–25). Gouache, metallic paint, and pencil on paper on board. 18 x 16 cm. Private collection.

Auction prices, unsurprisingly, lag significantly behind that of her husband. However, a gloriously vibrant gouache on paper, Composition dans un cercle blanc sur fond noir (1936), sold at Christie's London for £187,500 in 2019, over six times its high estimate—indicating the market is just beginning to catch up.

In May 2020, Hauser & Wirth announced exclusive worldwide representation of the artists' estate, collaborating with the Arp Foundation (Stiftung Arp e.V.). An ongoing and extensive project dedicated to the commissioning of new scholarship and research was also revealed, much of which will be available on a comprehensive and dedicated website, sophietaeuberarp.org.

Founder of the gallery, Iwan Wirth, indicates a much larger story remains to be told, remarking, 'Sophie Taeuber-Arp is the great known, unknown artist of the 20th century.' —[O]

Main image: Sophie Taeuber-Arp, Six Spaces with Four Small Crosses (1932). Oil paint and graphite on canvas. 65 × 100 cm. Kunstmuseum Bern. Gift of Marguerite Arp-Hagenbach. Courtesy Tate.