Sophie Taeuber-Arp was a Swiss artist, painter, sculptor, textile designer and dancer. She was one of the foremost figures of the Dada art movement, and is considered one of the most important artists of concrete art and geometric abstraction of the 20th century.
Taeuber-Arp was born in 1889 in Davos, Switzerland. She studied art at the School of applied Arts in St Gallen, before continuing her education in Munich, Germany in the workshop of Wilhelm von Debschitz. She then spent a year at the School of Arts and Crafts (Kunstgewerbeschule) in Hamburg. In 1915, she joined a group of artists known as the Schweizerischer Werkbund. That same year, she met Dada artist Jean Arp, whom she would later marry and attended the Laban School of Dance in Zurich. In the summer, she spent time at the artist colony of Monte Verita in Ascona and danced with the pioneer of expressionist dance, Mary Wigman.
In 1916, Taeuber-Arp began teaching textile arts at the Zurich Kunstgewerbeschule (now Zurich University of the Arts). During this time, she became involved with the Dada movement and began creating abstract multimedia called Duo-Collages with Jean Arp, drawing inspiration from her textile work and focusing on geometry and pattern. Her textile and graphic work from this time period are some of the earliest Construcivist works. Taeuber-Arp would disguise herself to perform in Dada-inspired performances as a dancer, choreographer and puppeteer so that she could protect her reputation and keep her teaching job. She created puppets, costumes and sets for her performances at the Cabaret Voltaire and other venues. In 1918, she was a co-signer of the Zurich Dada Manifesto. That same year, she created a series of wooden “Dada heads” that resembled hat stands onto which she painted geometric, stylised faces.
In 1926, Taeuber-Arp and her husband (she married Jean Arp in 1922) moved to Strasbourg, France and became French citizens. Along with Theo van Doesburg, a Dutch De Stijl artist, the couple worked on restoring a mid-18th century building to create the Café de l’Aubette. The space comprised of a dance hall, restaurant and theatre and was completed in 1928. Their modern design proved highly controversial, and the people of Strasbourg complained, leading to many changes being made. The Café de l’Aubette was later destroyed by the Nazis. In 1928, Taeuber-Arp and her husband moved to Paris, where she continued to experiment with designs, including her own house and some of its furnishings. From 1929 to 1930, she was an exhibitor at the Salon des Surindépendents in Paris.
In the 1930s, Taeuber-Arp became a member of the Cercle et Carré, a group of abstract artists in Paris founded by Joaquin Torres Garcia and Michel Seuphor and then Abstraction-Création (1931–34). She was a part of the first Carré exhibition at the Galeries 23 (Paris) in 1931, and during the 1930’s she created polychrome and monochrome wooden reliefs, which integrated biomorphic with geometric forms. In 1937, she founded Plastique, a Constructivist review in Paris and served as editor until 1939.
In 1940, after the Nazis invaded Paris during World War II, Taeuber-Arp returned to Zurich where she produced a series of “line” pictures, continuing her experimentation in geometric abstraction. In 1943, Taeuber-Arp died from accidental carbon monoxide poisoning. In 1955, Taeuber-Arp began to garner substantial recognition for her work, beginning with an exhibition at documents 1. In 1981, the Museum of Modern Art in New York displayed a retrospective of her work which was then showcased at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, the Museum of Fine Arts in Houson and the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal.
Taeuber-Arp is celebrated on Swiss banknotes, and is the only woman to date to appear on them and has done so since 1995. In 2007, a museum honouring her and her husband opened in a section of the Rolandseck railway station in Germany.