Urgent Museum Notice

Meret Oppenheim

Black and white photo of a woman shot from the shoulders up. She leans to the left, bringing her hand to her ear. Her light hair is cropped very short to her head and she looks past the camera with a thoughful expression, looking as if she were about to begin speaking.

Photo by Hans Hammarskiöld, Stockholm, Sweden

1913–1985

Her work embodies many art movements of the 20th century, particularly Dada and Surrealism, but she is celebrated as an original thinker who followed her own vision.

At 18, Oppenheim went to study art in Paris, where she befriended members of the Surrealist circle, including May Ray, Andre Breton, Marcel Duchamp, and Max Ernst. She established her name in the art world in 1936 with the overnight fame of her fur-lined teacup, Object (Le déjeuner en fourrure [Lunch in fur]), which became an icon of 20th-century art.

Almost 20 years of personal turmoil and creative crisis followed as the artist slowly distanced herself from the Surrealists and moved back to Switzerland during World War II. She returned to the public spotlight in the mid-1950s, once again championing individuality and femininity.

In addition to sculptures, Oppenheim produced paintings, drawings, jewelry, artists’ books, and mixed-media pieces. She constantly challenged society’s rigid definition of male and female and encouraged her audience to tread the fine line between reality and dreams.

In in her famous acceptance speech for the City of Basel Art Prize in 1975, Oppenheim discussed the subject of female artist and personal freedom. She believed in “androgyny of the mind” and proclaimed, “Freedom is not given to you, you have to seize it.” The Kunstmuseum Bern owns the largest collection of Oppenheim’s work, and her papers reside in the city’s Swiss National Library.

Artist Details

  • Name

    Meret Oppenheim
  • Birth

    Berlin-Charlottenburg, Germany, 1913
  • Death

    Basel, Switzerland, 1985
  • Phonetic Spelling

    MAIR-eht AH-pehn-(h-eye-m)

Works by Meret Oppenheim

Gloves

While living in France as an art student, Oppenheim made many unusual sketches for gloves. She designed gloves covered with fur in 1934 and gloves showing the hand’s bone structure in 1936 (the same year as her famous fur-covered teacup, saucer, and spoon titled Object). Elsa Schiaparelli’s avant-garde fashion house in Paris also commissioned her to create sketches of gloves and...

An open book into whose pages the shapes of hands have been cut. Gray gloves painted with red veins are visible through the cutouts. An identical pair of gloves rest next to the book.