Méret Elisabeth Oppenheim was (born in Berlin, Germany) a Swiss Surrealist artist and photographer. Oppenheim was a member of the Surrealist movement of the 1920s along with André Breton, Luis Buñuel, Max Ernst, and other writers and visual artists. Besides creating art objects, Oppenheim also famously appeared as a model for photographs by Man Ray, most notably a series of nude shots of her interacting with a printing press.
Méret Oppenheim is named after Meretlein, a wild child who lives in the woods, from the novel Green Henry by
Gottfried Keller. Oppenheim had two siblings, a sister named Kristin (born 1915) and a brother named Burkhard (born 1919). Her father, a German-Jewish doctor, was conscripted into the army at the
outbreak of war in 1914. Consequently, Oppenheim and her mother, who was Swiss, moved to live with Oppenheim's maternal grandparents in Delémont, Switzerland. In Switzerland, Oppenheim was exposed to art and artists from a young age.
Oppenheim was inspired by her aunt, Ruth Wenger, especially by Wenger's devotion to art and her modern lifestyle.
In 1932, at the age of 18, Oppenheim moved to Paris and sporadically attended the Académie de la Grande Chaumière. In 1933 she met Hans Arp and Alberto Giacometti who, after visiting her studio and seeing her work, invited her to participate in the Surrealist exhibition in the “Salon des Surindépendants,” held in Paris between 27 October and 26 November. Oppenheim met André Breton and began to participate in meetings at the Café de la Place Blanche with the Surrealist circle.
In 1936, Oppenheim had her first solo exhibition in Basel, Switzerland, at the Galerie Schulthess. She continued to contribute to Surrealist exhibitions until 1960. Many of her pieces consisted of everyday objects arranged as such that they allude to female sexuality and feminine exploitation by the opposite sex. Oppenheim’s paintings focused on the same themes. Her originality and audacity established her as a leading figure in the Surrealist movement.
In 1945 she meets Wolfgang La Roche whom she marries. 1948 they move to Berne.
In 1956 Oppenheim designed the costumes and sets for Daniel
Spoerri’s production of Picasso’s play Le Désir attrapé par la queue in Berne, and in 1959 she created the controversial
object, Cannibal Feast, for the opening of the last International Surrealist Exhibition in Paris. The sculpture included a live nude model laid out on a table and covered with food and was criticized for depicting woman as an object of consumption;
Oppenheim insisted that the work was instead intended as a spring fertility rite for both men and women.
In 1983 Oppenheim designed the controversial Tour-fontaine in Berne (Waisenhausplatz), a tall concrete column wrapped with a garland of grass over a small watercourse. Her sculpture Spiral (1971) was erected on the Montagne Ste Geneviève in Paris in 1985.
Méret Oppenheim dies November 15, 1985 in Basel, Schweiz.