Learning the Unruly ABCs of Dada

T is for...
Toy and Transgendered Tradition

It's also for Sophie Taeuber (known as Taeuber-Arp after she married the Alsatian abstractionist.)

Dada probably had a larger number of important female members than any prior movement in Western art. Maybe that was part of its rejection of tradition, which almost always had a single-minded focus on men. Work by women automatically had a whiff of rebellion, just because of who made it.

There was also lots for dada to learn from female artists. Before joining dada, Taeuber taught design -- like many women, she had been relegated to the "lesser," decorative arts. That background allowed her to combine design and fine art in a marriage that could yield good dada rewards -- if only because, by the standards of the time, it seemed such an unlikely, cross-dressing, miscegenated union.

Taeuber made proto-feminist pieces using media borrowed from traditional "women's work" such as embroidery and toymaking -- though her embroideries were presented as serious works of abstract art, and her puppets had names like "Freud Analytikus" and "Dr. Komplex."

Taeuber's absolutely symmetrical abstract sculptures were made of wood and turned on a lathe. They resembled everyday objects -- toys, jewel boxes -- yet were drained of practical function. They are like nothing that had come before. And not much that came after.

- Blake Gopnik, Washington Post Staff Writer


© 2006 The Washington Post Company