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Tisch mit Vogelfüssen

Tisch mit Vogelfüssen
carved and gilded wood and bronze with gold patina
25 ¼ x 16 ½ x 22 3⁄8 in. (64 x 42 x 56.8 cm.)
Executed in 1939; this work is unique
Jeanine Restany, Paris, by whom acquired directly from the artist in the 1950s or 1960s, and thence by descent; sale, Sotheby's, London, 25 June 2002, lot 198.
Acquired at the above sale by the family of the present owner.
Exh. cat., Meret Oppenheim, Paris, 1984 (illustrated p. 18).
B. Curiger, Meret Oppenheim: Defiance in the Face of Freedom, Zurich, Frankfurt & New York, 1989, no. B8, pp. 47 & 149 (illustrated).
A. Cohen-Solal, Leo and his circle: the life of Leo Castelli, New York, 2010, p. 134.
Paris, Galerie René Drouin & Leo Castelli, Exhibition of Fantastic Furniture, July 1939.
Stockholm, Moderna Museet, Meret Oppenheim: Utställningen pågår, April - May 1967, no. 21.
London, Victoria & Albert Museum, Surreal Things: Surrealism and Design, March - July 2007, no. 9, pp. 270 & 271 (illustrated p. 271; illustrated again on the back of the dust jacket); this exhibition later travelled to Rotterdam, Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, September 2007 - January 2008; and Bilbao, Guggenheim Museum, March - September 2008.
Frankfurt, Schirn Kunsthalle, Surreal Objects: Three-Dimensional Works from Dalí to Man Ray, February - May 2011, p. 179 (illustrated).
Venice, Ca' Corner della Regina, Fondazione Prada, The Small Utopia Ars Multiplicata, July - November 2012, no. 419, pp. 257 & 320 (illustrated p. 257).
Vienna, Bank Austria Kunstforum, Meret Oppenheim: Retrospective, pp. 204 & 205 (illustrated p. 205); this exhibition later travelled to Berlin, Martin-Gropius-Bau, August - December 2013.

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Ottavia Marchitelli
Ottavia Marchitelli Senior Specialist, Head of The Art of The Surreal Sale

Lot Essay

“Gifts from a Medium.”
Meret Oppenheim created the definitive Surrealistic Object in 1936. Her fur-covered cup, saucer and spoon subverts substance and service, translating Breton’s dictum of creation abetted by chance. Conceptual intuition was matched only by the certainty of curatorial response. Revealed at André Breton’s exhibition of Surrealist objects at the Galerie Charles Ratton in May 1936, Oppenheim’s artwork was immediately seized for The Museum of Modern Art in New York (MoMA) by its director, Alfred H. Barr. The year closed with the work, now baptised with efficient purity as ‘Object’, as the definitive, iconic and popular sensation of MoMA’s Fantastic Art, Dada, Surrealism exhibition. Executed in 1939, Tisch mit Vogelfüssen announced the artist's return to the Surrealistic Object.
At the time of the MoMA acquisition, Meret Oppenheim was barely twenty-three. Born in Berlin, Oppenheim enjoyed an enlightened background growing up in Switzerland. Self-assured of creative destiny, she moved to Paris in 1932, befriending fellow Swiss artists Jean Arp and Alberto Giacometti, who introduced her to their circle and encouraged her to create her first Surrealist work. Exhibiting with the Surrealist group at the 1933 Salon des Surindépendants, she was feted as the embodiment of the Surrealist woman, spontaneous in her access to the realms of the dream and the subconscious.
Oppenheim posed naked with androgynous indifference for Man Ray’s Erotique Voilée, published in Breton’s Minotaure 5 in 1934. She painted, drew, wrote poetry, experimented with materials and participated enthusiastically in Surrealist meetings. She designed jewellery for Schiaparelli, and costumes for the ballet. Her first one-woman show followed swiftly in 1936, and featured an introduction penned by Max Ernst. Her work was exhibited alongside that of Frida Kahlo, Dorothea Tanning and Louise Nevelson in Peggy Guggenheim’s ground-breaking Exhibition by 31 Women in New York in 1943. Her first lifetime retrospective was held at the Moderna Museet, Stockholm, 1967. More recently her first transatlantic retrospective toured the Kunstmuseum Bern, The Menil Collection, Houston and MoMA, New York, from October 2021 to March 2023. From the vantage of retrospection a pioneering woman artist, Oppenheim herself saw any such gender distinction as superfluous to the value of her expressive argument.
Tisch mit Vogelfüssen was created by Oppenheim for the inaugural exhibition of Leo Castelli and René Drouin’s gallery, located between The Ritz and Schiaparelli’s boutique, at 17 Place Vendôme, Paris in July 1939. Featuring meandering footprints impressed into the gilt-wood top, and anchored upon elongated bronze claws, the work contemplates a precious, dream-like meditation on absence and memory, yet resonates with potent tension. The table announced Oppenheim’s return to the definitive Surrealist object, incorporating fertile zoomorphic imagery that paralleled her paintings and that acknowledged her former lover Ernst’s avian alter-ego, ‘Loplop.’ Exhibited alongside works by Leonor Fini, Eugène Berman, Ernst and Giacometti, the exhibition was well received and the opening night was, according to Castelli, ‘brilliant and decadent.’ Photographed by George Hoyningen-Huene, the first American reviews of the exhibition were published in Harper's Bazaar, on 1 September 1939. Within hours, France was at war with Germany, and Paris began to empty. The imminent sobriety of urgent realism now beckoned.
If Oppenheim’s Tisch mit Vogelfüssen offered eulogy to the pre-war obsession for Surrealistic objects, then it also surreptitiously anticipated a new sensibility within a postwar Parisian milieu now shaped by the anxieties of Sartre, Camus and Ionesco. By the 1960s the work had entered the private collection of Jeanine Goldschmidt-Restany. Once a former assistant to René Drouin, now married to the influential art critic Pierre Restany, Jeanine established her eponymous Galerie J in Paris in 1961. It was here, in 1964, that she invited François-Xavier and Claude Lalanne to assemble Zoophites, their first joint exhibition. The Lalanne’s beguiling bronze menagerie revealed François-Xavier’s monumental Rhinocrétaire 1 and, pertinently, Claude’s sprightly bird-legged cabbage, Choupatte. If Oppenheim’s bird-prints had pondered the wistful poetry of the psyche, Claude’s ambivalent vegetable now offered Nouveau Réalisme submission to the paradoxical absurdities of the imagination.
Tisch mit Vogelfüssen is a unique example executed in 1939 from plaster casts handmade by Oppenheim. In 1983 the artist authorised Thomas Levy Gallery, Hamburg, to craft a signed, numbered and dated edition of thirty tables together with two artist’s proofs and two prototypes. Since 1972 a variation of Oppenheim’s original 1939 concept, now simplified by the manufacturers to feature only two bird-prints to the top, has been retailed by Simon International and by Cassina. These subsequent iterations of the current unique table have served to further expose an international audience to Oppenheim’s imagination, and to enhance recognition of the original Tisch mit Vogelfüssen of 1939 as one of definitive icons of Surrealism.
Simon Andrews, Andrews Art Advisory

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