WASHINGTON—The National Museum of Women in the Arts (NMWA) presents Meret Oppenheim: Tender Friendships, on view April 26–Sept.14, 2014. This spotlight exhibition includes artworks from the Furtak collection supplemented by loans that span Meret Oppenheim’s (1913–1985) career. Highlights include the witty Table with Bird’s Feet (1983) and the famous photograph The Couple (1973) of two boots “kissing” as well as small sculptures, drawings, prints, books, letters and other archival materials. During her prolific career, Oppenheim created art that explored themes of sensuality and desire, friendship and love, nature and culture, and reality and imagination. This exhibition explores friendship as a source of inspiration and support.
Many of the 24 works on view are part of a recent donation to NMWA made by Vassar College art librarian Thomas Hill in honor of his friendship with late librarian of the Walker Art Center Rosemary Furtak (1943–2012). For the last 20 years of her life, Furtak, who loved Oppenheim’s art, collected what she could afford on her modest salary. To prevent her collection’s dispersal and sale, and to assure that Oppenheim’s books and objects would find a home where their artistic value was appreciated, Hill acquired the collection and donated it to NMWA in 2013.
“This exhibition will give visitors a taste of Oppenheim’s creative talent and originality,” said Curator of Book Arts Krystyna Wasserman. “I was attracted to the mysterious quality of her art, her inventiveness and her poetic imagination. We are presenting lesser-known works by Oppenheim, which illuminate the artist’s personal life, her artistic and intellectual friendships, and the landscape of her dreams. Oppenheim made art part of her life; she worked very hard but was often playful and open to new experiences.”
Meret Oppenheim was a German-born, Swiss painter and sculptor. After Oppenheim moved to Paris in 1932, she encountered the Surrealists, first exhibiting with them in the Salon des Surindépendants in 1933. The best known of her Surrealist works may be Object (1936), also known as the fur-lined teacup, but she later resented being identified solely with this one movement during her diverse career. She worked in many styles and mediums, among them painting, sculpture, performance art, furniture and jewelry design. A retrospective exhibition of Oppenheim’s work, now traveling in Europe, has brought new scholarship, evaluation and appreciation of her full importance to 20th-century modern art.
Oppenheim was also a poet who published and illustrated several books including Sansibar (1981) and Caroline (1985)—both of which are showcased in the exhibition. Inspired by the friendship between two 18th-century poets, Bettina Brentano and Karoline von Günderode, Oppenheim created paintings and prints dedicated to the two women, some of which are featured in the exhibition. Oppenheim identified with and embraced nature in many of her artworks and poems. Her iconography includes birds, animals, insects, plants, clouds, rocks, sea and sky.
She believed that art is androgynous and often refused to be defined as a woman artist; however, she fought for women’s rights and often explored themes related to feminine sensitivity and sexuality. For her, personal and intellectual freedom was of the utmost importance. As she poignantly said in her acceptance speech for the City of Basel’s art award in 1975, “Freedom is not given to you, you have to seize it.”
Meret Oppenheim: Tender Friendships is organized by the National Museum of Women in the Arts. The exhibition is made possible by Margaret M. Johnston and the members of NMWA. Further support is provided by the Embassy of Switzerland, Washington, D.C., and the family of Meret Oppenheim.
Lecture/Film Celebrating Meret Oppenheim
Thursday, April 24, 5–7 p.m.
Price: Free. Reservations required.
Explore the life and artistic legacy of Swiss Surrealist Meret Oppenheim. The evening begins with the Washington, D.C., premiere of “Meret Oppenheim—A Surrealist on Her Own Terms” (56 minutes) by filmmaker Daniela Schmidt-Langels. Following the screening, the artist’s niece, Lisa Wenger, speaks about “Meret Oppenheim, My Aunt.” A question-and-answer session with Wenger and Schmidt-Langels concludes the evening. The film is in German with English subtitles. Presented in partnership with the Embassy of Switzerland.
Gallery Talk: Meret Oppenheim
Wednesday, June 4, 12–12:30 pm
Price: Free. Meet at Information Desk.
Looking for some artistic and intellectual nourishment during your lunch break? Visit NMWA on Wednesdays for short gallery talks to explore NMWA’s exhibitions and collection with museum staff. Digital Media Specialist Laura Hoffman discusses selections from the special exhibition Meret Oppenheim: Tender Friendships. Through close looking and guided inquiry, participants examine works that attest to the artist’s interest in the natural world and her unparalleled imagination.
National Museum of Women in the Arts
Founded in 1981 and opened in 1987, NMWA is the only museum solely dedicated to celebrating the achievements of women in the visual, performing and literary arts. The museum’s collection features 4,500 works from the 16th century to the present created by more than 1,000 artists, including Mary Cassatt, Frida Kahlo, Alma Thomas, Lee Krasner, Louise Bourgeois, Chakaia Booker and Nan Goldin, along with special collections of 18th-century silver tableware and botanical prints. NMWA is located at 1250 New York Avenue, NW, Washington, D.C., in a landmark building near the White House. It is open Monday–Saturday, 10 a.m.–5 p.m. and Sunday, noon–5 p.m. For information, call 202-783-5000 or visit www.nmwa.org. Admission is $10 for adults, $8 for visitors 65 and over and students, and free for NMWA Members and youths 18 and under. Free Community Days are on the first Sunday of the month. For more information about NMWA, visit www.nmwa.org, Broad Strokes Blog, Facebook or Twitter.