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Sipping from a furry teacup

01.04.2022 – JÜRG STEINER

Since 1983, Waisenhausplatz (Orphanage Square), just around the corner from the Berne Museum of Fine Arts 200 metres away, has been home to “The Spiral Column” – a fountain that artist Meret Oppenheim (1913–85) created two years before her death. Water drips down the tower-like structure, now covered at the top in plants, mosses and lichens. Icicles form when the water freezes. Initial reaction to the artist’s work was also chilly. Locals called it the “column of shame”, or even the “urinal”.

A controversial fountain – “The Spiral Column” in Berne. Photo: Keystone

The fountain was certainly a talking point. It also showed how little the world-renowned Meret Oppenheim cared about what other people thought of her work. Almost 40 years later, the Berne Museum of Fine Arts has been hosting a retrospective of this incredible woman who lived in the Swiss capital for so long. Entitled “My Exhibition”, the show provides a wide-ranging appreciation of Oppenheim’s immeasurable body of work. Oppenheim used almost every material in the book. It was her 1936 furry teacup (“Object”) that won plaudits from the outset. Oppenheim thought this iconic work was just quite strange, whereas the art world fell over itself to imbue the teacup with meaning.

“Freedom is not given to you – you have to take it.”

Meret Elisabeth Oppenheim

* 6th of August 1913 in Charlottenburg, † 15th of November 1985 in Basel

Meret Oppenheim was labelled a surrealist. However, visitors to “My Exhibition” will discover a fascinating array of original works by an artist who refused to be pigeonholed – and who suffered from artist’s block for years but never lost her self-deprecating style. One of her works, “My Nurse”, shows a pair of women’s high-heeled shoes trussed together like a chicken and “served” sole side up on a silver platter.

“Freedom is not given to you – you have to take it,” Oppenheim once said. She never veered from this ethos. Her furry teacup was missing from the exhibition in Berne – she probably would have been relieved to hear.

Photo Keystone

After its Berne residency, “My Exhibition” will be housed at The Menil Connection in Houston, USA (25 March to 18 September 2022) before moving to the Museum of Modern Art in New York (30 October 2022 to 4 March 2023).

Tour of “My Exhibition” by television presenter Ueli Schmetzer (in Swiss German):