Monday, June 22, 2015

Méret Elisabeth Oppenheim (6 October 1913 â€" 15 November 1985) was a German-born Swiss Surrealist artist and photographer. Oppenheim was a member of the Surrealist movement of the 1920s along with André Breton, Luis Buñuel, Marcel Duchamp, Max Ernst, and other writers and visual artists. Besides creating art objects, Oppenheim also famously appeared as a model for photographs by Man Ray, most notably a series of nude shots of her interacting with a printing press.

Early life

Méret Oppenheim

Méret Oppenheim was born on October 6, 1913, in Berlin. Oppenheim is named after Meretlein, a wild child who lives in the woods in the novel ‘’Der Grüne Heinrich’’ (The Green Henry) by Gottfried Keller. Oppenheim had two siblings, a sister named Kristin (born 1915) and a brother named Burkhard (born 1919). Her father, a German-Jewish doctor, was conscripted into the army at the outbreak of war in 1914. Consequently, Oppenheim and her mother, who was Swiss, moved to live with Oppenheim's maternal grandparents in Delémont, Switzerland. In Switzerland, Oppenheim was exposed to art and artists from a young age. Oppenheim was inspired by her aunt, Ruth Wenger, especially by Wenger's devotion to art and her modern lifestyle.

In 1932, at the age of 18, Oppenheim moved to Paris and sporadically attended the Académie de la Grande Chaumière. In 1933 she met Hans Arp and Alberto Giacometti who, after visiting her studio and seeing her work, invited her to participate in the Surrealist exhibition in the “Salon des Surindépendants,” held in Paris between October 27 and November 26. Oppenheim met André Breton and began to participate in meetings at the Café de la Place Blanche with the Surrealist circle.


In 1936, Oppenheim had her first solo exhibition in Basel, Switzerland, at the Galerie Schulthess. She continued to contribute to Surrealist exhibitions until 1960. Many of her pieces consisted of everyday objects arranged as such that they allude to female sexuality and feminine exploitation by the opposite sex. Oppenheim’s paintings focused on the same themes. Her originality and audacity established her as a leading figure in the Surrealist movement.

Méret Oppenheim's first one-woman exhibition in the Galerie Sohulthess, Basel (1936) featured surrealist objects that Oppenheim had created. In 1937, Oppenheim returned to Basel and this marked the start of her artistic block. She struggled after she met success, and worried about her development as an artist. Méret Oppenheim usually worked in spontaneous bursts and at times destroyed her work. Oppenheim took a hiatus from her artistic career in 1939 after an exhibition at the Galerie René Drouin started by Rene Drouin in Paris. In the exhibition she was featured alongside many artists which included Leonor Fini and Max Ernst. She did not share any art with the public again until the 1950s. She then reverted back to her "original style" and based her new artworks on old sketches and earlier works and creations.

Méret Oppenheim's best known piece is Object (Le Déjeuner en fourrure) (1936). The sculpture consists of a teacup, saucer and spoon that the artist covered with fur from a Chinese gazelle. It is displayed at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. The enormous success of this early work would create later problems for Oppenheim as an artist, and soon after its creation she drifted away from the Surrealists. Decades later, in 1972, she artistically commented on its dominance of her career by producing a number of "souvenirs" of Le Déjeuner en fourrure.

In 1956 Oppenheim designed the costumes and sets for Daniel Spoerri’s production of Picasso’s play Le Désir attrapé par la queue in Berne, and in 1959 she created the controversial object, Cannibal Feast, for the opening of the last International Surrealist Exhibition in Paris. The sculpture included a live nude model laid out on a table and covered with food and was criticized for depicting woman as an object of consumption; Oppenheim insisted that the work was instead intended as a spring fertility rite for both men and women.

In 1983 Oppenheim designed the controversial Tour-fontaine in Berne (Waisenhausplatz), a tall concrete column wrapped with a garland of grass over a small watercourse. Her sculpture Spiral (1971) was erected on the Montagne Ste Geneviève in Paris in 1985.


In 1996, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum mounted Oppenheim's first major museum show in the United States at a time when renewed interest in her work, particularly among young artists, had already begun in Europe. In 2013, a comprehensive retrospective of Oppenheim's work opened at the Martin-Gropius-Bau in Berlin, gathering the artist’s paintings, sketches, sculptures, masks, clothing, furniture, and jewelry. Lenders included singer David Bowie, the Swiss retail tycoon and art dealer Ursula Hauser, and the Dutch diamond magnate Sylvio Perlstein.


Méret Oppenheim

Oppenheim's international awards included the 1972 Art Prize of the City of Berlin. In her acceptance speech upon receiving the Art Award of the City of Basel on January 16, 1975, Oppenheim coined the phrase "Freedom is not given to you â€" you have to take it."


Méret Oppenheim

Oppenheim, who died in 1985, at 72, kept careful notes about which patrons and colleagues she liked and where her works ended up. She dictated which of her writings should be published and when, and there are puzzling gaps, since she destroyed some material. The archive and much artwork have been entrusted to institutions in Bern, including the Museum of Fine Arts and the National Library.

Levy Galerie, founded in 1970 by Hamburg resident Thomas Levy, represents the estate of Meret Oppenheim, in close collaboration with the artist's family.


Méret Oppenheim
  • Chadwick, Whitney. "Oppenheim, Meret." Grove Art Online. Oxford Art Online. [3]
  • Oppenheim, Méret. "Meret Oppenheim: Beyond the Teacup." New York, 1996. Print.

Further reading

  • Kleiner, Fred S.; Mamiya, Christian J. (2005). Gardner's art through the ages (12th ed.). USA: Thompson Learning Co. pp. 999â€"1000. 
  • Slatkin, Wendy (2001). Women Artists in History (4th ed.). USA: Pearson Education. pp. 203â€"204. 
  • Meyer-Thoss, Christiane (1996). 'Meret Oppenheim: Book of Ideas'. Early Drawings and Sketches for Fashion, Jewelry, and Designs. Gachnang & Springer. ISBN 978-3-906127-51-4.  With Photographs by Heinrich Helfenstein. Translated from German by Catherine Schelbert.
  • Oppenheim, Meret (1988). Meret Oppenheim: New York. New York: Kent Fine Art. 

External links

  • Publications by and about Méret Oppenheim in the catalogue Helveticat of the Swiss National Library
  • Literary estate of Méret Oppenheim in the archive database HelveticArchives of the Swiss National Library
  • Small gallery of Meret Oppenheim works
  • Artcyclopedia entry
  • IMAGO: Meret Oppenheim (1988/1996), film
  • Dates and a portrait
  • Photo & more works

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