Monthly Archives: December 2009

Meret Oppenheim

Méret Oppenheim

Meret Oppenheim (6 October 1913, Berlin  — 15 November 1985, Basel) was a German-born, Swiss, Surrealist artist. Oppenheim  is highly associated with the Dada movement because of her circle of friends. However, her art cannot be considered Dada: she did care about the aesthetics of the art object. Despite frequent recognition of her work in standard texts, relatively little critical attention has been paid to Oppenheim herself.

Having been raised in Switzerland and South Germany, Oppenheim traveled at the age of 18 to Paris and enrolled at the Academie de la Grande Chaumiere. She became absorbed in Surrealism and was invited by Giacometti and Arp to exhibit with the Surrealists in 1933. She continued to contribute to their exhibitions until 1960. Many of her pieces consisted of everyday objects arranged as such that they allude to female sexuality and feminine exploitation by the opposite sex. Oppenheim’s paintings focused on the same themes. Her originality and audacity established her as a leading figure in the surrealist movement.

Oppenheim’s best known piece is Object (Le Déjeuner en fourrure) (1936). The sculpture consists of a teacup, saucer and spoon that the artist covered with fur from a Chinese gazelle. It is displayed at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

Oppenheim is also often credited with coining the phrase ” Nobody will give you freedom, you have to take it. ”

Text from Wikipedia. Photo: “My Nursemaid”, 1967

Additional information

  • Kleiner, Fred S.; Mamiya, Christian J. (2005) (12th ed.). USA: Thompson Learning Co.. p. 999-1000.
  • Slatkin, Wendy (2001). Women Artists in History (4th ed.). USA: Pearson Education. p. 203-204.
  • Meyer-Thoss, Christiane (1996). ‘Meret Oppenheim: Book of Ideas’. Early Drawings and Sketches for Fashion, Jewelry, and Designs.. Gachnang & Springer. ISBN 978-3-906127-51-4.  With Photographs by Heinrich Helfenstein. Translated from German by Catherine Schelbert.

Selma Hortense Burke

Selma Burke BurkeSelma Hortense Burke (1900-1995) was born in  North Carolina, one of ten children of  a local Methodist minister.  She received her formal educational training from Winston Salem University and later graduated in 1924 as a registered nurse from St. Agnes Training School for Nurses in Raleigh.  After graduating she moved to New York City where she worked as a private nurse.

While in New York, Burke began to focus on her art and became associated with the Harlem Renaissance.  Working in Harlem for the Works Progress Administration and the Harlem Artists Guild, Burke began teaching art appreciation and education to New York youth.  During the 1930s, she traveled across Europe studying and honing her skills as an artist. In 1940 she opened the Selma Burke School of Sculpture in New York City and the following year graduated with a Master of Fine Arts degree from Columbia University.  In 1942 she joined the navy, making her one of the first African American women to enroll.  While in the navy, Burke was commissioned to do a bronze relief portrait of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt which is currently on the United States dime. Since the coin bears the initials of the engraver, John Sinnock, Selma Burke has never received proper credit for the portrait used on the dime.

Sources: Charlotte Striefer Rubinstein, American Women Sculptors: A History of Women Working in Three Dimensions (Boston: G. K. Hall & Company, 1990);

Helene Sardeau

Helene Sardeau was born in 1899 in Belgium and lived and worked in New York. Her work embodies the social realism that transformed figurative art in the early decades of the 20th century.

Sardeau’s set of three bas reliefs in the Greenfield, Massachusetts Post Office lobby was installed in 1941.* The  almost-life-size bronzes are in high relief, in the semi-abstract figurative style that is the hallmark of Art Deco sculpture. The group consists of two individual figures flanking a mother and child pair. All figures are silhouetted and hung directly on the wall–this a modernist rejection of conventional architectural framing in a cartouche or escutcheon. The figure on the left is an African-American man with a trowel in his right hand, sowing grain. The central panel shows a mother and child playing. In the relief on the right (pictured) a woman harvests grapes and vegetables in basket held in her lap.

Sardeau carved her first major commission, Slave (1933), for the Ellen Phillips Samuel Memorial Sculpture Garden in Fairmount Park, Philadelphia. In 1925, “Miss Helene Sardeau, Belgian sculptress” modeled an “American Venus” trophy  in her New York studio. The completed trophy, two feet high and cast in bronze, was, according to  a contemporary newspaper account, “[to] be presented at Atlantic City, September 19th, to the contestant among the seventy-one inter-city beauties and Miss Americas who photograph to the best advantage. This lucky girl will also have the title role in The American Venus, a Paramount Picture to be produced on the Boardwalk by Frank Tuttle.”

Sardeau continued to use her maiden name after she married a fellow artist, the painter George Biddle, in 1931. In 1940 she and Biddle collaborated on frescoes and sculptures for the Supreme Court Building in Mexico City. Sardeau died in 1969 in Croton-on-Hudson, New York.

*Most of the Post Office works of art in Massachusetts were funded through commissions under the Treasury Department’s Section of Painting and Sculpture (later known as The Section of Fine Arts) and not (as commonly thought) by the WPA. The Federal Arts Program was proposed in 1933 by George Biddle to ex-Choate classmate, Franklin Roosevelt.