Oppenheim first unveiled Object
at “Exposition surréaliste d’objets,” a groundbreaking show organized by Surrealism leader
at Galerie Charles Ratton in Paris. Her sculpture was presented on the bottom rung of a multi-tiered vitrine that, on higher shelves, housed objects created by more prominent male artists like Picasso (Glass of Absinthe
, 1914 and Why Not Sneeze Rose Sélavy
, 1913), and
Even so, it was Oppenheim’s contribution that caused a stir, confirming a flattering (if patronizing) comment Ernst penned about her work earlier that year: “Who covers a soup spoon with precious fur? Who has outpaced us? Little Meret.” As the late MoMA curator Carolyn Lanchner pointed out in her book Oppenheim Object, Breton himself even lauded the hirsute artwork as a manifestation of his belief that a Surrealist object should “traquer la bête folle de l’usage” or “hound the mad beast of function.”
In Paris, Object began to assume its position as a tantalizing expression of Surrealist ideals: a sculpture that joined incongruous parts to create an impossible, uncanny object.
After the Ratton exhibition closed, Oppenheim’s sculpture continued on its path of shock and awe in London, at the New Burlington Galleries’ “International Surrealist Exhibition,” and in New York, where in late 1936, MoMA’s director Alfred H. Barr, Jr. included it in a groundbreaking survey called “Fantastic Art, Dada, Surrealism.”
The show was sprawling. Its
and Surrealism section alone included 46 artists, 39 of which were men. Many of these were represented with scores of artworks; Ernst, for instance, contributed over 40 pieces to the installation. By contrast, Barr included only Oppenheim’s Object
from her oeuvre, yet this was the addition that seemed to most captivate and confound the New York audience.
One newspaper column derided Surrealism as the goofy offspring of Dada, using Object as proof: “‘What Next?’ cries the surrealism-beset world. Just as though things weren’t dada enough, the surrealists had to come to America with their fantastic art. The fur lined cup and saucer with spoon thrown in for good measure gives an idea of all the goofiness started by the surrealist art exhibit in New York.”