Meret Oppenheim was the German-born, Swiss Surrealist artist and photographer, who was the most original of the female Surrealists. She explored female sexuality and woman’s role as sex object. She was known for taking everyday found objects and presenting them in a disturbing and often erotic way.
She was raised by her grandparents in Switzerland during World War I. In 1932 at the age of 18, she moved to Paris and studied art sporadically at the Academie de la Grande Chaumiere where she met Hans Arp and Alberto Giacometti, who in 1933 invited her to participate in the Surrealist exhibition in the “Salon des Surindependants.”
She contributed her own objects to Surrealist exhibitions and was soon acclaimed for her “Object (Le Déjeuner en fourrure)” 1936, a fur-covered cup, saucer, and spoon. This work transformed an everyday object into a hairy ensemble that simultaneously attracted and repelled viewers. New York’s Museum of Modern Art acquired this piece in 1946. It was the first time MoMA bought a piece of art made by a woman.
In another art piece, Oppenheim confronted gender roles by placing face down on a silver platter a pair of high-heeled shoes, bound and trussed like poultry. Miniature chef’s hats, used to decorate cooked meat, were placed over the heels. This bizarre work suggests bondage and underscored the objectification of the female body.
After public recognition in Paris, Oppenheim sank into depression starting in 1937. While her work was shown in Peggy Guggenheim’s “Exhibition by 31 Women” in 1943, she made very little artwork until 1954 when she began again. She created drawings, collages, and poems and experimented with different techniques, contributing to Surrealist exhibitions until 1960.
In 1996, the Guggenheim Museum mounted her first major museum show in the United States, and in 2013 there was a comprehensive retrospective of her work shown in Berlin. Her work was also shown in Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s 2012 major exhibition of women surrealists “In Wonderland: The Surrealist Adventures of Women Artists in Mexico and the United States.”