Oppenheim, Méret (1913–1985)

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Oppenheim, Méret (1913–1985)

Swiss-German painter and sculptor. Name variations: Meret Oppenheim. Born in Berlin-Charlottenburg in 1913; died in Switzerland in 1985 (some sources cite 1986); studied briefly at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière.

Works include Quick, Quick, the Most Beautiful Vowel Is Voiding (1934); Fur-Covered Cup, Saucer and Spoon (Breakfast in Fur , 1936); My Nurse (1936); The Couple (1956); Primeval Venus (1962); Octavia (1969); Word Wrapped in Poisonous Letters (1970); Pair of Gloves (1985).

Born in Berlin at the onset of World War I, Méret Oppenheim was taken by her family to her mother's native Switzerland, where she grew up. At age 19, she moved to Paris and enrolled briefly at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière. There she became friends with Sophie Tauber-Arp and Surrealists Hans Arp and Alberto Giacometti, who introduced her to the Surrealist movement. Oppenheim participated in Surrealist meetings and group exhibitions, knew Pablo Picasso, and for a time was romantically linked to Max Ernst. Throughout her stay in Paris, she also modeled nude for many photographs for her friend Man Ray, including Méret Oppenheim—Erotique Violée. In 1933, a series of Oppenheim woodcuts and paintings were shown at the Surrealist Exhibition. That same year, her first solo show was held in Basle at the Galerie Schulthess.

Oppenheim was best known for creating household objects out of unexpected materials. Her Fur-Covered Cup, Saucer, and Spoon caused a sensation at the 1936 International Surrealist Exhibit in London, and is still considered a quintessential symbol of Surrealism; it is now at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. Thrown by the celebrity suddenly thrust upon her, Oppenheim returned to Basle four years later, marking what Whitney Chadwick has called "the beginning of an eighteen-year period of artistic crisis and redirection." She produced very little art during World War II. Beginning in the late 1950s, she again created and exhibited sculptures, paintings, and artworks incorporating such ordinary objects as tools or shoes, as well as Surrealist furniture. (In 1939, she had taken part in an exhibition of fantastic furniture with Léonor Fini , Max Ernst and others at the Galerie René Druin and Leo Castelli in Paris.) Oppenheim resisted the Surrealist label, however, noting that "every idea is born with its form." A major retrospective of her work was held at the Moderna Museet in Stockholm in 1967, by which time her reputation in Europe was again secure, and she remained active as an artist until her death in 1985. In 1996, the first major museum exhibition of Oppenheim's work in the United States was held at the Guggenheim Museum in New York City.

sources and suggested reading:

Carley, Michal Ann. "Meret Oppenheim & Hannah Höch: Laying Groundwork for Art in a New Century," in Fiberarts: The Magazine of Textiles. Vol. 24, no. 4. January–February, 1998, pp. 46–51.

Chadwick, Whitney. Women Artists and the Surrealist Movement. Boston, MA: Little Brown, 1985.

Glueck, Grace. "After a Furry Teacup, What Then?," in The New York Times. June 28, 1996.

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Oppenheim, Méret (1913–1985)

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