Meret Oppenheim
German-Swiss surrealist



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Meret Oppenheim
German-Swiss surrealist
Average: 5 (2 votes)

Date of Birth

October 06, 1913

Place of Birth

Berlin, Germany

Date of Death

November 15, 1985

Place of Death

Basel, Switzerland

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Like her contemporaries Leonora Carrington and Louise Bourgeois, Oppenheim uses the cultural moment of surrealism to direct our attention toward a world of things as they really exist: non-physical entities unaffected by human error and "progress."

In this sense Oppenheim's work defined the era through its "unspecified power," which is opened up in the analysis of Celia Rabinovitch: "the pervasive sense of significance–the mysterious attraction and fear that is the numinous or the holy–...the most striking feature of surrealist art."

Prefiguring facets of Pop Art, Oppenheim's "surreal material fetishism...was especially effective: her fur-covered breakfast china of 1936, her demon with animal head of 1961, her dress and furniture designs (e.g., the table with bird legs, 1939)." Valie Export links Oppenheim's interest in "fauna symbolism" to the work of Carolee Schneemann and herself. Biographically, the use of the wild animal is linked to Oppenheim's namesake. Born in prewar Berlin to a German-Jewish father and a Swiss mother, Oppenheim's parents named her after Meretlein, the forest-dwelling child sorcerer in Der grüne Heinrich by the Swiss author Gottfried Keller. A common theme in sorcery, witchcraft and theurgy as depicted in sources of antiquity is the use of apparently mundane objects, especially from animals and plants. Another understanding of witchcraft is that it threatens, confuses, scrambles and/or destroys the spiritual authority of dominant powers by the use of small objects or "fetishes" used in innovative and unauthorized ways. Oppenheim used the insights of Marx regarding the fetish of the commodity and Freud regarding the psychological fetish to draw upon the "unspecified power" of the animal to make the gallery environment part of nature, or to denature the natural by introducing it to the gallery. The undecidability of her work is part of its creative power.



  1. Clardy, Karen. Defense Mechanisms of a Female Artist: Humor in the work of Meret Oppenheim. San Francisco: Academy of Art, 2018.
  2. Deleuze, Gilles. Francis Bacon. New York: Continuum, 2005.
  3. Export, Valie. "Aspects of Feminist Actionism." New German Critique (1989): 69-92.
  4. Keller, Gottfried. Der Grüne Heinrich: Roman. Stuttgart: J.G. Cotta'sche, 1906.
  5. Oppenheim, Meret. “Interview by Alain Jouffery.” In Meret Oppenheim: Mirrors of the Mind, edited by Simon Baur, Belinda Gardner, Christian Walda and Thomas Levy, 9-18. Berlin: Kerber Verlag, 2014.
  6. Rabinovitch, Celia. Surrealism and the Sacred: Power, Eros and the Occult in Modern Art. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 2002.
  7. Spector, Nancy. “Meret Oppenheim: Performing Identities.” In Meret Oppenheim: Beyond the Teacup, edited by Jacqueline Burckhardt and Bice Curiger, 35-43. New York: Independent Curators Incorporated, 1996.

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Here is what Wikipedia says about Méret Oppenheim

Meret (or Méret) Elisabeth Oppenheim (6 October 1913 – 15 November 1985) was a German-born Swiss Surrealist artist and photographer. Besides creating art objects, Oppenheim appeared as a model for photographs by Man Ray, most notably a series of nude shots of her interacting with a printing press.

Early life

Meret Oppenheim was born on 6 October 1913 in Berlin. She was named after Meretlein, a wild child who lives in the woods, from the novel Green Henry by Gottfried Keller. Oppenheim had two siblings, a sister Kristin (born 1915), and a brother Burkhard (born 1919). Her father, a German-Jewish doctor, was conscripted into the army at the outbreak of war in 1914. Consequently, Oppenheim and her mother, who was Swiss, moved to live with Oppenheim's maternal grandparents in Delémont, Switzerland. In Switzerland, Oppenheim was exposed to a plethora of art and artists from a young age. Oppenheim was also inspired by her aunt, Ruth Wenger, especially by Wenger's devotion to art and her modern lifestyle. During the late 1920s, Oppenheim was further exposed to different artworks connected to Modernism, Expressionism, Fauvism, and Cubism.

By 1928, Oppenheim was introduced to the writings of Carl Jung through her father and was inspired to record her dreams. Oppenheim was interested in Jung's analytical approach, particularly his animus-anima theory. Throughout her life, Oppenheim carefully analyzed her own dreams and transcribed them in detail in her writings. She attempted to use them when addressing “fundamental life questions.” Likewise, Oppenheim used iconography and motifs from Jung's archetypes within her work throughout the years; typical motifs Oppenheim used include spirals and snakes. Oppenheim renounced the term “feminine art” and adopted Jung's ideal androgynous creativity in her art in which masculine and feminine aspects worked simultaneously.

The work of Paul Klee, the focus of a retrospective at the Kunsthalle Basel in 1929, provided another strong influence on Oppenheim, arousing her to the possibilities of abstraction.

In May 1932, at the age of 18, Oppenheim moved to Paris from Basel, Switzerland and sporadically attended the Académie de la Grande Chaumière to study painting. Her first studio was a hotel room at Montparnasse Hotel in Paris. At this time she produced mainly paintings and drawings. In 1933, Oppenheim met Hans Arp and Alberto Giacometti. After visiting her studio and seeing her work, Arp and Giacometti invited her to participate in the Surrealist exhibition in the “Salon des Surindépendants,” held in Paris between 27 October and 26 November. Oppenheim later met André Breton and began to participate in meetings at the Café de la Place Blanche with the Surrealist circle. She impressed the surrealists with her uninhibited behavior. Shortly after she began to attend meetings regularly with Breton and other acquaintances, Oppenheim's circle was joined by other Surrealist artists such as Marcel Duchamp, Max Ernst, and Man Ray. The conceptual approach favored by Marcel Duchamp, Max Ernst, and Francis Picabia became important to her work.

Check out the full Wikipedia article about Méret Oppenheim.

Comments (1)


Furry teacups and skull X-rays seem to go well with the Man Ray photographs of nude print pressing...