Interlude - Sophie Taeuber-Arp at NWMA

Sophie Taeuber was a brilliantly distinctive dancer, interior designer, sculptor, costume maker and painter. She blazed a singular trail from the post-World War One stirrings of Dada in her native Switzerland, to her particularly horrible death, choking on fumes from a carbon monoxide-emitting stove, in 1943.

Along the way, she married Hans Arp, who’s a bit more famous these days, and moved to Paris. Some of her work’s usually on show at the National Museum of Women in the Arts (NWMA), in Washington DC, including this very fine late work from the Paris years. Dada, with which Taeuber-Arp is indelibly associated, was a very angry movement, but Composition of Circles and Semicircles is calm and stately in its balanced abstraction.

Composition of Circles and Semicircles

The sharply-delineated shapes move across a dark background, like celestial bodies, or maybe like reflections of city lights on still water at night. The colours of these shapes are similarly uniform: cool mint green, a chalky red/orange, a royal blue. The brushwork is smooth, almost invisible.

Taueber-Arp is also commonly-termed a Constructivist artist, due to her preference for austere, geometrical abstraction. But there’s something of the Cabaret Voltaire, the legendary Zurich venue for which she designed costumes and sets, in those early, angry Dada years, in the movement of these circles. They might be calm, but they’re not still.

Composition of Circles and Semicircles is in the permanent collection at the National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington DC