(Swiss, October 6, 1913–November 15, 1985) was an artist and photographer
who was a member of the Surrealist movement during the 1920s. Born in Germany, Oppenheim was forced to move to Switzerland as a child due to her father's conscription into the German army during World War I. In Switzerland, she was exposed to art primarily through an aunt. This exposure led her to relocate to Paris in 1932 to attend the Académie de la Grande Chaumière. Oppenheim’s studies at the Académie were inconsistent, but her work was developed enough to earn her an invitation from Hans Arp
(German/French, 1886–1966) and Alberto Giacometti
(Swiss, 1901–1966) to participate in a Surrealist exhibition, the Salon des Surindépendants
, in 1933. Her participation in the exhibit earned her official welcome in the circle of Surrealist artists and writers thriving in Paris at that time. It also gave her the cachet needed to put on her first solo expedition at the Galerie Schulthess in Basel in 1936.
Oppenheim's work focused on the sexuality and exploitation of women. The theme can be seen repeatedly in her paintings
as well as her sculptures
, in which she used regular objects posed as women to make her statements. Some of her work achieved worldwide recognition, especially the piece Object (Le Déjeuner en fourrure)
, which consisted of a teacup, saucer, and spoon covered in Chinese gazelle fur. This 1936 sculpture was the result of a comment from Pablo Picasso
(Spanish, 1881–1973) that anything could be covered in fur. The work was exhibited at the London International Surrealist Exhibition in 1936, then later at the Museum of Modern Art in New York as part of the Alfred H Barr Jr. (American, 1902–1981) Fantastic Art, Dada, Surrealism
exhibit in both 1936 and 1937.
Oppenheim's productivity after this early success became erratic, and she destroyed much of the work she produced as she moved away from her Surrealist roots. She began to work regularly again in the 1950s, designing costumes and sets for a Picasso play in 1956 and creating a piece, Le Festin
, which depicted a nude woman covered with food on a table. This work was shown at the last International Surrealist Exhibition in Paris in 1959. She continued to produce her work, much of it controversial, until shortly before her death. Oppenheim's estate is represented by the Levy Galerie