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Sophie Taeuber-Arp

Living Abstraction

NEUBAU / 20.03.–20.06.2021 / Curators: Walburga Krupp, Eva Reifert, Natalia Sidlina, Anne Umland

Enjoy the exhibition in our virtual tour.

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.

The exhibition will travel to the following institutions:
Tate Modern, London, 15 July to 17 October 2021
Museum of Modern Art, New York, 21 November 2021 to 12 March 2022

Sophie Taeuber-Arp

(19.1.1889, Davos – 13.1.1943, Zürich)

Sophie Taeuber-Arp decided early on to train in arts and crafts in St. Gallen and Munich, where she specialised in textile design and wood sculpture at the Debschitz School. Handicraft and artisanal techniques experienced a new appreciation at this time as a counter-design to widespread industrial production. In 1914 Taeuber-Arp settled in Zurich and trained in expressive dance. Together with her future husband Hans Arp, she was active in the anti-bourgeois Dada movement. She took part in a large number of exhibitions of artistic works. In the second half of the 1920s, Taeuber-Arp and her husband took French citizenship. She spent a lot of time in Strasbourg, where she received a number of commissions for interior design. In the early 1930s, Taeuber-Arp gave up her job in Zurich and moved to Paris. In 1940, Taeuber-Arp and her husband fled from the National Socialists to the south of France. There they suffered from poverty and malnutrition. In 1943, they managed to escape to Zurich, where Sophie Taeuber-Arp tragically died shortly afterwards from carbon monoxide poisoning caused by a mishandled stove. (Photo: Sophie Taeuber-Arp in the planning office for the Aubette, Strasbourg 1927, photographer unknown, Stiftung Arp e.V.)

Visit the exhibition with the online audio guide. You can listen to it for free on your mobile phone or tablet with your headphones.

Tour of the exhibition on the occasion of the press conference

«Lockdown Dada Dance»

Some are mischievous and funny, others poignant or frightening: the Dada marionettes of Swiss artist Sophie Taeuber-Arp were made for movement and action. And yet they have been activated only a few times since their creation in 1918, spending almost one hundred years in the archives of the Museum für Gestaltung Zürich or on display as art objects in museums. These fantastical creations of the avant-garde are now given new life in the short film Marionettes in Motion (7 minutes, Switzerland, 2021) by Marina Rumjanzewa and the outdoor projection Lockdown Dada Dance (7 minutes, Switzerland, 2021) by Anita Hugi and Patrick Lindenmaier.

Using performance replicas of the marionettes, the two short films were developed on the occasion of the exhibition, produced by Narrative Boutique GmbH in coproduction with Kunstmuseum Basel and Andromeda Film, and in cooperation with the Decorative Arts Collection of the Museum für Gestaltung Zürich / ZHdK, the Department of Film and the Performing Arts / ZHdK and the Basler Marionetten Theater.

The outdoor projection Lockdown Dada Dance was projected onto the facade of the Kunstmuseum Basel | Neubau nightly from March 18 to March 31, 2021. The Website www.dada-dance.com accompanied the outdoor projection.