Sophie Taeuber-Arp, one of the most innovative artists and designers of the 20th century avant-garde, opens her doors at Tate Modern.

Sophie Taeuber with her Dada head 1920 Gelatin silver print on cardboard, 12.9 × 9.8 Stiftung Arp eV, Berlin Photo Nicolai Aluf

One of the most innovative artists and designers of the 20th century avant-garde, Sophie Taeuber-Arp (1889-1943) challenged the boundaries between abstract art, design and craftsmanship. The large Tate Modern exhibition is the first in the UK to retrace Taeuber-Arp’s accomplished career as a painter, architect, teacher, writer and designer of textiles, puppets and interiors. Bringing together more than 200 collectibles from across Europe and America, the exhibition shows how it opened up a new path for the development of abstraction.

Sophie Taeuber-Arp vase holder. vs. 1916–25 Gouache, metallic paint and pencil on paper on cardboard 7 1? 16 x 6 5? 16 ″ Private collection

After studying fine and applied arts in Munich, Sophie Taeuber-Arp began her career in Zurich, an international vanguard hub during the First World War. She took lessons at the influential dance school of Rudolf von Laban and met her lifelong partner, the artist and poet Jean (Hans) Arp. She became a successful textile practitioner and teacher while simultaneously experimenting with non-figurative art. Responding to the grid structure of textiles and the vivid colors of vernacular culture, she created vivid works on paper and embroidery. His work stands out from the abstract art of his contemporaries by completely bypassing the deconstruction of the figurative form. A selection of these works is presented side by side with decorative artwork including beaded bags, jewelry, rugs, pillowcases and tapestries to reflect the fluid way Taeuber-Arp was simultaneously working in all disciplines.

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

By the end of the war, Taeuber-Arp had become active within Zurich Dada, the ephemeral but influential art movement that sought to integrate art and life, embracing abstraction and absurdity. His turned wood “Dada heads” are among the most emblematic works of art of the period. She also embraced the performative side of dada, dancing at the legendary Cabaret Voltaire and creating puppets for the avant-garde interpretation of the play ‘King Stag’. All original puppets are exhibited at Tate Modern in an exceptional exhibition hall.

Sophie Taeuber-Arp embroidery. vs. 1920 Wool on canvas 12 5? 8 x 15 3? 4 ″ Private collection, on loan to the Arp Foundation, Clamart, France

In the 1920s, Taeuber-Arp embarked on experimentation with architecture and interior design for private homes and public buildings. The exhibition includes drawings and furniture from these projects, such as the commission for Aubette, a modernist entertainment complex in Strasbourg, produced in collaboration with Arp and Theo Van Doesburg. The commercial success of his architectural practice enabled Taeuber-Arp to design his own studio-house near Paris, which would become a focal point for international intellectuals such as Tristan Tzara, Max Ernst and James Joyce. Taeuber-Arp’s involvement in the Parisian art scene prompted a return to painting in the late 1920s. She experimented with primary colors and abstract shapes to develop a series of compositions of rectangles and circles in the 1930s. Bounded by the canvas, she also translated these ideas into a series of painted reliefs in turned wood.

Geometric shapes Sophie Taeuber-Arp (necklace). vs. 1918 Glass beads, metal beads, wire and cord Length: 13 3? 16 ″ without cord, 33 7? 16 ″ cord included Museum für Gestaltung, Zürcher Hochschule der Künste, Zurich. Decorative Arts Collection

Fleeing Paris at the start of World War II, Taeuber-Arp turned to drawing as one of the few means of artistic expression available to a displaced artist. The last room in the exhibition brings together the works she produced during her travels and exile, produced before her tragic accidental death in 1943 at the age of 53. These works embody his lifelong interest in abstraction, his constant development of new ideas, and his ability to embrace new materials and methods in a way that remains extremely influential for artists today.

Sophie Taeuber-Arp: Sechs Räume mit vier kleinen Kreuzen (1932) / Oel auf Leinwand / 65 x 100 cm

Sophie Taeuber-Arp July 15 – October 17, 2021 Tate Modern

Sophie Taeuber-Arp is organized by Tate Modern, the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Kunstmuseum Basel. It is organized at Tate Modern by Natalia Sidlina, Curator, International Art, Tate Modern; Anne Umland, The Blanchette Hooker Rockefeller, Senior Curator of Painting and Sculpture, The Museum of Modern Art; Walburga Krupp, independent curator; and Eva Reifert, curator, Kunstmuseum Basel; with Sarah Allen and Amy Emmerson Martin, Assistant Curators at Tate Modern. It will be accompanied by a fully illustrated catalog including essays by curators as well as renowned academics Leah Dickerman, Briony Fer, Mark Franko, Maria Gough, Jodi Hauptman, Medea Hoch, Juliet Kinchin, T’ai Smith, Adrian Sudhalter, Jana Teuscher and Michael White. A small introductory book is also available offering an overview of the life and work of Taeuber-Arp.


  • London art objects


  • Sophie Taeuber-Arp
  • Tate Modern


Marc Westall

Mark Westall is the founder and editor-in-chief of FAD magazine Founder and co-editor of Art of Conversation and founder of the @worldoffad platform

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