Haegue Yang on the legacy of Sophie Taeuber-Arp

Legendary abstract artist and designer Sophie Taeuber-Arp is finally receiving her dues in a Tate Modern retrospective. To mark the occasion, Korean artist Haegue Yang reflects on the enduring influence of her work

Sophie Taeuber-Arp, Composition of Circles and Overlapping Angles 1930. The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Sophie Taeuber-Arp, Composition of Circles and Overlapping Angles 1930. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. The Riklis Collection of McCrory Corporation. Photography: The Museum of Modern Art, Department of Imaging and Visual Resources. © 2019 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn
(Image credit: The Museum of Modern Art, Department of Imaging and Visual Resources)

Sophie Taeuber-Arp (1889-1943) never had an exclusive relationship with one discipline. A painter, architect, teacher, magazine editor, textile designer, puppeteer, dancer and creator of absurd Dada objects, the Swiss artist’s legacy lies in her versatility, innovation and fearless experimentation. 

A pioneer of the French avant-garde, she probed the intersections of abstract art, craft and design, and proved that, in practice, such distinctions need not exist. 

Black and white old photo of artist

Nicolai Aluf, portrait of 
Sophie Taeuber with her Dada head 1920. Stiftung Arp e.V., Berlin

(Image credit: TBC)

A major retrospective at Tate Modern – the first of her work ever held in the UK – is dedicated to the life and work of this trailblazer, and it’s been a long time coming. Through 200 key works and objects from collections across Europe and America, the show captures how an artist, once overlooked and in the shadow of her husband – the German-French sculptor and Dada doyen Hans Arp – quite literally gave geometric abstraction a new vocabulary. 

Taeuber-Arp was heavily involved in Zurich Dada, a short-lived, but potent movement which sought to seamlessly fuse art and life. During this time, she created some of her most defining works: a set of abstract ‘Dada Heads’ made in turned polychromed wood. Primary colour-drenched wall pieces – wool on canvas, oil on canvas, oil on wood – capture Taeuber-Arp’s taste for the relentless pushing of material potential. 

Haegue Yang on the lasting influence of Sophie Taeuber-Arp

What is most striking about Taeuber-Arp’s work is its longevity of relevance and enduring influence with contemporary artists across the creative landscape. One such artist is Haegue Yang, whose current solo show ‘Strange Attractors’, at Tate St Ives runs until 26 September.

In her own words, the Korean artist offers insight into Taeuber-Arp’s enduring impact on her work and outlook:

‘Sophie Taeuber-Arp, a dancer, painter, sculptor as well as weaver, architect, and educator, is a figure of complexity. Both spiritualist and modernist, her double soul is evident in her affiliation with an international style and vernacular treatment of material,’ says Yang.

Art work using cables and washing airers

Haegue Yang, Non-Indépliables, nues, 2010/2020, in ‘Strange Attractors’, at Tate St Ives. Courtesy of the artist; 

(Image credit: Nick Ash)

‘Her capacity to encompass these movements and the zeitgeist of her time and beyond fascinates me. For example, her sculpture Coupe Dada (1916/18) seems to be an enclosed container, a mysterious and vibrant melting pot fusing extraordinarily diverse practices. 

‘Her accommodating force of hybridity empowers even non-European artists like me to access the Western avant-garde as atonality with ruptures.’

Puppets and tin man sculptures in gallery

Installation view of ‘Sophie Taeuber-Arp’ at Tate Modern. Courtesy Tate, Seraphina Neville

(Image credit: TBC)

Colourful patterned wool on canvas art work

Sophie Taeuber-Arp, Embroidery. c. 1920, wool on canvas. Private collection, on loan to the Fondation Arp, Clamart, France

(Image credit: TBC)

Painted plywood art piece

Sophie Taeuber-Arp, Flight: Round Relief in Three Heights 1937, oil paint on plywood. Stiftung Arp e.V., Berlin

(Image credit: TBC)

Painted glass panels

Installation view of ‘Sophie Taeuber-Arp’ at Tate Modern. Courtesy Tate, Seraphina Neville

(Image credit: TBC)

Collection of art work in glassed cabinets

Installation view of ‘Sophie Taeuber-Arp’ at Tate Modern. Courtesy Tate, Seraphina Neville

(Image credit: TBC)

Colourful art work with crosses

Sophie Taeuber-Arp, Six Spaces with Four Small Crosses, 1932. Kunstmuseum Bern. Gift of Marguerite Arp-Hagenbach

(Image credit: TBC)

Purple knitted draw string bag

Sophie Taeuber-Arp, Perlbeutal, c 1917. Museum fur Gestaltung Zurich

(Image credit: TBC)

INFORMATION

‘Sophie Taeuber-Arp’ at Tate Modern runs until 17 October 2021, tate.org.uk

ADDRESS

Tate Modern
Bankside
London SE1 9TG

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Harriet Lloyd-Smith is the Arts Editor of Wallpaper*, responsible for the art pages across digital and print, including profiles, exhibition reviews, and contemporary art collaborations. She started at Wallpaper* in 2017 and has written for leading contemporary art publications, auction houses and arts charities, and lectured on review writing and art journalism. When she’s not writing about art, she’s making her own.