Meret Oppenheim: Beyond the Teacup examines the work of the inspirational Swiss artist whose surrealist masterpiece, Le dejeuner en fourrure / Breakfast in Fur created an international sensation when it was purchased by Alfred Barr Jr. for the Museum of Modern Art, New York, in 1936, the year of its creation. Oppenheim’s work is now considered remarkably farsighted and theoretically subversive; however, while the “fur cup” remains a standard textbook illustration, surprisingly little of her work is known in the U.S. Organized by ICI, Meret Oppenheim: Beyond the Teacup, is the first retrospective of Oppenheim’s work to be presented in this country. The exhibition brings together approximately 90 major loans and includes sculpture, painting, drawing, collage, assemblage, and photography, which together reveal the stylistic range and diversity of Oppenheim’s artistic production from the early 1930s to the early 1980s.
Oppenheim was born in Switzerland in 1913 and went to Paris in 1933 to work as an artist. Through her acquaintance with Swiss artist Alberto Giacometti she met Max Ernst, Andre Breton, and May Ray and found herself, at age 23, at the center of the group of artists who were inventing Surrealism. In 1937, one year after the teacup’s creation, Oppenheim returned to Switzerland. Overcome with personal concerns and the turmoil of pre-war Europe, she entered a period of crisis that was to last almost 18 years. During this time she struggled to achieve creative freedom and escape from the teacup’s long shadow. She continued to work but frequently destroyed her artwork or left it unfinished. Years of critical neglect followed her brief fame until 1967, the year of her first retrospective in Stockholm, when she again became the focus of public attention. Since that time, Oppenheim’s work has continued to attract increasing interest throughout Europe. Oppenheim had an uncompromising view of both social and artistic conventions. Her precociousness, uninhibited behavior, and innate creative spirit captivated her Surrealist associates. But while she shared with them a zest for provocation and transgression, she could not accept the dogmatism of the Surrealists’ political attitudes and distanced herself from the movement. Oppenheim viewed the artist as an instrument of something universal, and artistic inspiration as surpraindividual. She often drew inspiration from myths but even more so from language and her own dreams.
Throughout her life Oppenheim was steadfast in her refusal to conform to any aesthetic formula. She blurred the traditional hierarchical categories of fine and applied arts by creating furniture, jewelry, sunglasses, masks and costumes, while also working in traditional fine art media. She challenged the Modernist concept of the need for unity and unique presence in an artist’s oeuvre by means of her use of diverse materials and varied approaches to representation, ranging from carefully observed descriptive images to pure abstraction. Oppenheim defended her devotion to a constantly changing studio methodology as the only way to connect with the immediacy of the moment. She explained, “Every idea comes to mind dressed in its own form; this is what art is about. “
Accompanying this exhibition is the catalogue “Meret Oppenheim: Beyond the Teacup,” with essays by Jacqueline Burckhardt, Bice Curiger, Josef Helfenstein, Thomas McEvilley, and Nancy Spector. Please click here or visit our shop for more information.