The Swiss artist Sophie Taeuber-Arp (1889–1943) was a pioneer of abstraction. With an air of playful ease, her interdisciplinary creations dismantled longstanding barriers between art and life. Fusing the experimentalism of the avant-garde circles in which she moved in Zurich and Paris with her technical training and experience as a teacher of applied art, she devised a form of abstraction brought to—indeed, integrated into virtually all domains of—life by expert craftsmanship. At the time of her death in a tragic accident in 1943, her oeuvre encompassed textile pieces such as pillows and tablecloths, bead works, a puppet theater, costumes, murals, furniture, architecture, graphic designs, paintings, drawings, sculptures, and reliefs.
Taeuber-Arp’s characteristic lucid yet animated formal idiom is recognizable across the wide range of materials she availed herself of: long after she first discovered dance as an expressive register in the orbit of Zurich Dada, the lively interplay of equilibrium and motion remained a key feature of her art, inspiring her abstract compositions as well.
In 2021, the Kunstmuseum Basel dedicates the comprehensive retrospective Living Abstraction to Sophie Taeuber-Arp’s oeuvre. The first exhibition to present her work to large international audiences beyond the German-speaking countries, it is produced in cooperation with the Museum of Modern Art, New York, and Tate, London. After decades of relative neglect—though the artist’s face will be familiar to many visitors thanks to her presence on the 50 Swiss Franc note—it establishes her as one of classic modernism’s leading avant-gardists.
The captivating survey allows visitors to experience the evolution of her work from her beginnings in applied art to the architecture-related projects of her Strasbourg years and the abstract paintings of her time in Paris. In 1937, Taeuber-Arp contributed numerous works to Konstruktivisten, an exhibition at Kunsthalle Basel that gave a major boost to the development and dissemination of abstraction. She figures prominently in the history of art in Basel also because several important collectors of her work called the city home.