ART – looking back at Meret Oppenheim's "Object"

I first encountered Meret Oppenheim’s “Object” in “The Erotic Object” show at MoMA, a 2009 exhibition of Surrealist sculpture. Many of the usual suspects were on display – Giacometti’s “Disagreeable Object,” a wooden phallus with three sharp points on the end as well as a few of Hans Bellmer’s bulbous, flesh-colored deconstructions of the female reproductive system. But resting on a pedestal right in front was Oppenheim’s show-stealing “Object.”

Made in Paris in 1936 from a store-bought cup, saucer and spoon covered in the fur of a Chinese gazelle, Andre Breton originally dubbed it “the lunch, in fur.” This title might appeal to one group of critics who find the furry tea set “sinister” and “repulsive,” but I prefer Oppenheim’s own title. As an “Object” it’s aloof, sensual and surprising. Other critics have praised Oppenheim for her ability to defamiliarize a common household item and, essentially, “animate the inanimate.” According to curator Anne Morra, the cup is a fantasy; It’s “bizarre, erotic and poetic” and has remained at the forefront of our fascination for generations. I have an image of it sitting on my desk so I can look at it every day. Still, seeing it in all its fur-covered splendor is a completely different experience. Your entire body responds to this one little cup in a way a postcard from the MoMA gift shop can’t quite capture.