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National Museum of Women in the Arts exhibits works by artist Meret Oppenheim
Meret Oppenheim, Gloves, 1985. Two gloves: Screenprint on goat suede, hand-stitched. Each glove: 8 3/4 x 3 1/4 in. National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Thomas Hill, in memory of Rosemary Furtak; Courtesy of Lisa Wenger and Martin A. Bühler, Meret Oppenheim Estate.

WASHINGTON, DC.- The National Museum of Women in the Arts 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 (1973) 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.

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