1913, Berlin – 1985, Bern
Assemblage: glass, foam, and squirrel's tail
28 x 16 x 9 cm
The Vera and Arturo Schwarz Collection of Dada and Surrealist Art in the Israel Museum
© ProLitteris, Zurich
Accession number: B98.0551
The German-born Swiss painter and sculptor Meret Oppenheim was only nineteen years old when she moved to Paris. There she met her compatriots Alberto Giacometti and Hans Arp, who introduced her to the Surrealists. Young, charming, and beautiful, she became the subject of a series of photographs by Man Ray and a muse for other men in the group. Oppenheim’s most important artistic productions are her objects characterized by “fortuitous juxtapositions” and manipulation of found or fabricated everyday items. She regarded these objects “not as an illustration of an idea but the thing itself.”
At twenty-two in 1936, Oppenheim exhibited her famous Object (Breakfast in Fur), a fur-lined teacup, saucer, and spoon, which Breton interpreted as a fetishistic sexual image; it defined Oppenheim as a quintessential Surrealist artist. Created in 1969, after Oppenheim’s extended self-imposed hiatus from art, Squirrel is another assisted readymade employing fur and carrying sexual overtones. Here the artist produces an imitation of a mug of foam-topped beer, concealing the glass handle with a squirrel’s tail. The work invites the viewer’s physical engagement with the object and evokes conscious or unconscious associations. The visual and tactile experience merge with the probable flavor of the beer, evoking a sense of potential satisfaction frustrated. By manipulating and adding to the functional article, Oppenheim negates its usefulness and creates something new and different.