Extraordinarily innovative and diverse, Sophie Taeuber-Arp figured prominently among the Zurich avant-garde, a swirl of Dadaists, Constructivists, and abstractionists. She pirouetted from paintings to sculpture, to textiles, to stained-glass windows, to marionettes, to design in many spheres (stage, costume, graphics, interiors, architecture). Her geometries and colors pulsate in paintings and wood bas-relief tondi. And her exquisite embroideries, beadwork, furniture, and tapestries propelled the British Arts and Crafts Movement into the 20th century. This endless energy and dizzying range come together in the exhibition “Sophie Taeuber-Arp: Living Abstraction,” which opens next week at London’s Tate Modern.
Born in Davos, Switzerland, in 1889, Taeuber-Arp studied textile design in her late teens and applied art in her 20s, while also gaining recognition as a dancer and choreographer. Indeed, a sense of kinetics would be vivid throughout all the mediums in which she worked, creating an inimitable style alive with playfulness, movement, rhythm. Sadly, in 1943, after having fled Nazi-occupied France for Switzerland, Taeuber-Arp died of accidental carbon-monoxide poisoning. In her native land she is celebrated—from 1995 to 2016, Taeuber-Arp’s face graced the Swiss 50-franc note. Outside that country, she is less known.