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Sophie Taeuber-Arp at Tate Modern review

  • Art
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. The Riklis Collection of McCrory Corporation. Photo: The Museum of Modern Art,© 2019 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild - Kunst, Bonn

Time Out says

Sophie Taeuber-Arp didn’t blur boundaries, she just lived her life like they didn’t exist. The borders between art, design, craft, textiles, architecture and any other creative endeavour the Swiss modernist turned her attention to were just semantics to her.

Right from the start here in the earlier World War I-era work you find marionettes and tapestries and stage sets alongside sculptures and geometric abstracts. The puppets are a cast of futuristic robo-villains sat opposite neat, colourful, grid-based abstract works on paper inspired by her knowledge of textiles.

Then there’s stark furniture and super simple geometric stained glass compositions and architectural drawings. But there’s no duality here: there’s no design-Taeuber-Arp and art-Taeber-Arp, there's just a singular, unified approach to creative life, a wholeness that says ‘all of this is me, accept it’. It feels thrilling now, and was properly radical back in the 1920s.

The show then gently immerses you in Taeuber-Arp’s abstract canvases, a world of primary colours and geometric shapes interacting and intersecting. They’re gorgeous, subtle things. The black works with white, red and blue dots are beautiful experiments in making shapes dance with each other. Then curves come in and you feel like maybe the works are dancing with you, the viewer. By the time the works go all 3D, cubes and cylinders jutting out of the canvases, you know for sure they’re reaching out to grab you. 

But then comes another war, and with it exile. Stuck without a studio or materials, Taeuber-Arp was left making drawings of shells and landscapes, none of which have the powerful appeal of her earlier work. 

And then it all stops. In 1943, Taeuber-Arp died of accidental carbon monoxide poisoning. And that’s it. The show ends, abruptly, suddenly. No fanfare, nothing, it all just whimpers out. Which is a shame, but it’s a quiet end to show about an artist who’s genuinely worth making some noise about.

Eddy Frankel
Written by
Eddy Frankel


£16, concs available.
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