Upon first encountering Sophie Taeuber-Arp’s (1889–1943) diminutive Head (1920), one might wonder whether it is an abstract sculpture, a playful portrait or a functional object. Indicative of the artist’s pursuit to break down the conventional boundaries between the applied and fine arts, the work defies easy categorization. Its stylized features―a single eye, a long trapezoidal nose, delicately beaded “earrings”―hint at the artist’s interests in modernist abstraction and in the stuff of everyday life.
A dancer, designer, puppet maker, sculptor and painter at the heart of the Zurich Dada movement, Taeuber-Arp made Head in the wake of World War I, during a time of profound political and cultural self-questioning. Almost a century later, her witty wooden figure has lost none of its punch as an investigation of art across aesthetic and material boundaries rather than within them. Curator Anne Umland’s essay positions this intriguingly anthropomorphic work within the broader arc of Taeuber-Arp’s remarkably vibrant and versatile career.