This was the name she used on their Dada tour of Holland in early 1923.

Was she a victim of both phallocentric art history and deep-seated misogyny even in an institution as progressive as the Bauhaus?

What is important, however, is that, fictionally speaking, the cards are erased cards.

Carrie Pilto — On my wall hangs a print by an American pioneer of conceptual art, Joseph Kosuth, a language-based work that presents a quotation from Gustave Flaubert: “The most beautiful works are those that have the least content ; the closer the expression is to the thought, the more indistinguishable the word from the content, the more beautiful the work. I think the future of art lies in that direction.” I read it as a source for Kosuth’s tautological works such as Five Words in Orange Neon (1965), a text in the form of an orange neon sign that states exactly what it is.

Next to the frame holding Kosuth’s Flaubert, I have Blu-Tacked a sheet of paper bearing the phrase “Five words in a line” (1930), by Gertrude Stein, the American avant-garde writer and modern art collector who made her life in France, which I plucked from a self-descriptive poem of hers. Stein was an earlier follower of Flaubert, but few see Stein and her matronly bulk as a link in the chain of artistic paternity between the two great men. Her extraordinary persona and relationships with other luminaries of her time (the artists, writers, composers, critics, collectors, aristocrats, and all of their companions who frequented the Steins’ salon at 27 rue de Fleurus in Paris) tend to overshadow her own experimental literary and artistic contributions.
Addressing her calling card sins in that direction once again. As a facilitator of relational aesthetics, the card instantly calls to mind two of her most compelling and historically significant affiliations. The first is Alice B. Toklas (her life partner, secretary and editor – otherwise known for her cookbook incorporating Brion Gysin’s recipe for Hashish Fudge), who is the ostensible subject of The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas (1933), the biography Stein actually wrote about herself. The second is Pablo Picasso, who needs no introduction.
Picasso met Stein first. Gertrude and her older brother Leo Stein were the young Spaniard’s first serious patrons in Paris, and this was decisive for his career. Gertrude’s personal exchanges with Picasso went on to form a major strand in the intertwined histories of modern art and literature, in which her visiting cards play a symbolic role. The first work to consecrate their budding complicity was Picasso’s famous Portrait of Gertrude Stein (1906, MoMA, New York), for which Stein recalled sitting “ninety times” in the painter’s Bateau-Lavoir studio. Picasso had the pretension to rival the groundbreaking portraits already hanging in Gertrude and Leo’s atelier-living room at 27 rue de Fleurus, namely Henri Matisse’s Woman with a Hat (1905) and Paul Cézanne’s Portrait of Madame Cézanne with a Fan (1878–88), and Stein’s androgynous figure proved the perfect vehicle for his own breakthrough. Synthesizing elements of works by the French masters before him (such as the impassive, cock-eyed gaze of the Steins’ Madame Cézanne, and the hefty, masculine, forward-leaning pose of Ingre’s Monsieur Bertin in the Musée du Louvre) with the hieratic simplification learned from Iberian sculpture, Stein’s portrait, with its mask-like face, is considered the doorway to Cubism.
Stein tells us that during the poses for her portrait and on her long walks home from Picasso’s studio to the rue de Fleurus, she “meditated and made sentences”, devising her own work, mirroring his creation. She, too, took Madame Cézanne’s plain, solid features and Cézanne’s neutral, non-dramatic technique as a starting point and, having begun to translate Flaubert’s Three Tales “as an exercise in literature”, “she looked at [the portrait] and under its stimulus she wrote Three Lives”, her first book. Three Lives is a trilogy of novellas based on the lives of three working-class women : two white servants (reminiscent of the maid in Flaubert’s “A Simple Heart”), and a young African-American woman, Melanctha, whose complex struggles with race, gender, sexuality and mental health are communicated in Stein’s new, repetitive, stream-of-consciousness style.
Stein saw her exchange with Picasso as the beginning of a whole new era in art, of which they were the two heroes. She summed it up as follows, in Toklas’s voice : “It had been a fruitful winter. In the long struggle with the portrait of Gertrude Stein, Picasso passed from the Harlequin, the charming early Italian period to the intensive struggle which was to end in Cubism. Gertrude Stein had written the story of Melanctha the negress, the second story of Three Lives which was the first definite step away from the nineteenth century and into the twentieth century in literature.”
Picasso gave her portrait to Stein, and in 1909 she reciprocated by writing a word-portrait of him, “Pablo Picasso”, the likes of which had never been seen. To her delight, it found a publisher in the ultramodern photography journal Camera Work in 1912.
Stein’s maiden calling card, which reads “Miss Gertrude Stein”, enters the picture at exactly that time. Speaking again as Alice (who moved in with her and Leo in 1910), she explains : “One day we went to see [Picasso]. He was not in and Gertrude Stein as a joke left her visiting card. In a few days we went again and Picasso was at work on a picture […] and at the lower corner painted in was Gertrude Stein’s visiting card.”
The painting Stein’s card completed was The Architect’s Table (1912, MoMA, New York), a large oval still life in shades of brown and gray, made in his new, Cubist Analytic style. Stein’s name and other words seem to float on the surface of its hermetic diffraction of forms – Picasso’s personal stories rising to the top of his formal experiments – while the white rectangle of her card is wholly there at the base of the picture, testifying to her presence in his life and work, promoting her.
By seductively inscribing Gertrude’s card into The Architect’s Table, Picasso seems to have tipped the scales definitively in his favor, against her brother Leo. Gertrude and Leo (who always purchased paintings jointly from their family trust fund allowances.) had in fact stopped buying Picasso’s work by 1910. Leo had lost interest in the direction he was taking, and in his opinion, both Analytic Cubism and his sister’s Cubist-aligned verse were similarly stupid “Godalmighty rubbish”. Gertrude purchased the painting by herself, paying the Kahnweiler gallery in two installments. This independent acquisition launched her as a collector in her own right, and Leo decamped to Italy in early 1914, leaving the apartment to Gertrude and Alice, alone at last.

Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas touring the French countryside, c. 1927. Photographer unknown. Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library (Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas papers), Yale University, New Haven, CT. - © Oracles: Artists’ Calling Cards

Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas touring the French countryside, c. 1927. Photographer unknown. Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library (Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas papers), Yale University, New Haven, CT.

A new era began at 27 rue de Fleurus, with Gertrude taking over Leo’s role of leading intellectual and “man” of the house, and Alice coming into her own in the role of discerning hostess, intellectual bodyguard and Gertrude’s wife in all but name. According to Renate Stendhal, some who studied their lives saw their “marriage” as a traditional one, based on patriarchal authority and submission patterns. But “if patriarchal patterns are played out”, she says, “they are played out with gusto, ad absurdum.” Indeed, when Stein and Toklas print their shared calling card, they appear to adhere with playful earnestness to early 20th-century convention. Passages from the Countess of Gencé’s Savoir-vivre et usages mondains inform that while an “unmarried woman of thirty” may have her own carte de visite, she should refrain from including her first name or address. On the other hand, a married woman’s name must appear on her husband’s card. What is a self-respecting over-thirty lesbian couple to choose ? They had the names “MISS STEIN” and “MISS TOKLAS” finely engraved in all capital letters, two word objects one above the other, like the newspaper mastheads or product advertisements in Cubist paintings or the headings of Stein’s stanzas, with Stein’s name in the lead (according to the traditional pattern of “Mr. and Mrs.”), followed by their conjugal address.
As Jack Flam notes, these three years, 1912 to 1914, which saw the invention of collage and the introduction of writing into painting, were “a particular historical moment… in which the convergence of words and images, the nexus between painting and poetry, had a particular resonance”. Both Stein and the Cubists saw words as part of the visual landscape of the modern world. They acknowledged words as physical subjects – in the same way as a group of apples, a steel construction or a nude body – as part of their project to overcome the limits of what philosopher William James, Gertrude’s college mentor, termed “selective attention”.
Stein’s most popular book of poetry, Tender Buttons (a euphemism for “clitori” in Stein parlance), was written in 1912 and published in 1914. It is divided into three sections, Objects, Food and Rooms, whose headings recall the subjects of Cubist still lifes and interiors. It begins :

A CARAFE, THAT IS A BLIND GLASS. A kind in glass and a cousin, a spectacle and nothing strange a single hurt color and an arrangement in a system to pointing. All this and not ordinary, not unordered in not resembling. The difference is spreading. GLAZED GLITTER. […]

Stein always maintained that her Tender Buttons was entirely “realistic” in the tradition of Flaubert. She told a late interviewer: “I used to take objects on a table, like a tumbler or any kind of object and try to get the picture of it clear and separate in my mind and create a word relationship between the word and the things seen.” In other words Stein, unlike her contemporaries, “does not give us an image… of a carafe on a table ; rather, she forces us to reconsider how language actually constructs the world we know.” (“The Difference is Spreading: on Gertrude Stein”, Academy of American Poets website, 2007).
Stein and Toklas scholar Edward Burns reminded me in an e-mail of how, in 1914, Stein proudly left the couple’s calling card with a turned-down edge (indicating a personal visit) at Picasso’s door, having found him absent. This time it sparked Picasso to create a spare, delicate still-life collage on white paper with the actual calling card adhered to the bottom right corner. Descriptively titled Dice, Packet of Cigarettes, and Visiting-Card, 1914 (Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas Papers, Yale Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University), the work is surely a double portrait of the lovers. We look down on a casual arrangement of objects on a tabletop, which Picasso has tilted upright for “reading”, creating something between a Steinian word portrait and a rebus : on the left, a pair of painted dice sit back to back, which might celebrate the couple or might be a nod to Stein as a poet through allusion to Stéphane Mallarmé’s influential visual poem A Throw of the Dice Will Never Abolish Chance (first printed in book form that same year).
In the center is Tokla’s yellow pack of Elégantes cigarettes, decorated with finely penciled vines and a pasted beige strip that reads “contributions indirectes” (customs and excise duties), a play on words that speaks implicitly of their mutual support. (Or it could be, more obliquely, an allusion to Stein’s recent passion for purchasing Cubist collages by Juan Gris, who characteristically incorporated the label.) Picasso then left the collage as a calling card at rue de Fleurus when nobody was home.
Despite Stein’s recognition by a transatlantic circle of art and literary cognoscenti, she and Toklas struggled to find a broader public for her writings. Then as today, avant-garde poetry sold less well than avant-garde painting, or gossip. She finally did achieve fame by writing her fabulous tell-all memoir in the guise of Toklas, so often cited above. The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas became the surprise bestseller of 1934 and has since remained one of the most popular accounts ever written of the lives and times of the Parisian avant-garde. In it, Stein places herself at the epicenter of that “kaleidoscope slowly turning” that was the creative life of Paris in the first half of the 20 th century and, in doing so, not only proclaims herself a literary “genius” but takes liberties with the facts in order to magnify her role in the art world (while minimizing those of selected others, who were left flabbergasted). With this and her follow-up memoir, Everybody’s Autobiography, Stein created her own legend, her own self-defined persona, and it has often been said that Stein has few equals as a self-mythologizer. It is tempting then to see her in another of Kosuth’s neon sign works : Self-Described and Self-Defined (1965). But as her calling cards remind us, she also made a point of describing and defining herself by her friendships and love of others.

Janet Bishop, Cécile Debray, Rebecca Rabinow (eds.)
The Steins Collect: Matisse, Picasso, and the Parisian Avant-Garde, San Francisco, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art ; New Haven, CT, Yale University Press, 2011

Jack Flam
“Menu du Jour: Word and Image in Cubist Painting”, Cubism: The Leonard A. Lauder Collection*, New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2014

Edmund Fuller (ed.)
Journey Into the Self: being the letters, papers & journals of Leo Stein*, New York, Crown Press, 1950

Comtesse de Gencé
Savoir-vivre et usages mondains, Paris, Bibliothèque des ouvrages pratiques, undated [1907]

Vincent Giroud
“Picasso and Gertrude Stein”, reprint of The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin (No. 3, Winter 2007), New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art ; New Haven, CT, Yale University Press, 2006

Patricia Leighten
“Vase, Gourd, and Fruit on a Table”, Picasso and the Allure of Language, New Haven, CT, Yale University Press, 2009

Gertrude Stein
The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, New York, Harcourt Brace, 1933

Renate Stendhal
Gertrude Stein in Words and Pictures, Chapel Hill, NC, Algonquin Books, 1994

Christian Besson — Sonia Terk. Sara Ilinitchna Stern was born into a poor Jewish family in Hradyzk, a small town near Odessa in actual Ukraine, in 1885, the youngest of three children. At around 7 years of age (the date remains uncertain), she was taken in by her wealthy maternal uncle in St. Petersburg, Henri Terk, and took the name Sofia Ilinitchna Terk. In 1904, she left to study in Germany for two years. She longed to be in Paris, however, as she wrote in her diary at the time, and moved there in 1906 under the name Sonia Terk.
In 1908 she contracted a marriage of convenience to Wilhelm Uhde, an art dealer who had exhibited her work the previous year at his gallery on rue Notre-Dame-des-Champs alongside Braque, Picasso, Derain and Dufy. Sherry Buckberrough writes : “The Russian intelligentsia of the late 19 th and early 20 th centuries challenged bourgeois institutions defiantly. Young couples often resisted social pressure to settle into conventional marriage by entering instead into a mariage blanc, a non-sexual union based on shared social or intellectual interests. Sonia’s marriage to the gay gallerist Wilhelm Uhde allowed both parties the financial means to continue their mutual support of the avant-garde. Her unexpected romance in 1909 with Robert Delaunay was the realization of yet another Russian ideal, a creative union between a man and a woman. In the tradition of the Aesthetic movement, a life of art was central to the Russian avant-garde ethos, mandating that creative couples dedicate their lives to a joint artistic goal.”
Sonia Terk divorced Uhde and married Robert Delaunay in 1910, becoming “Sonia Delaunay”, but continued to use the name “Sonia Terk-Delaunay” fairly often.

Brancusi. This calling card stems from the Brancusi collection bequeathed to the Bibliothèque Kandinsky, Centre Pompidou, Paris, and the note on the card is addressed to the sculptor. Sonia Delaunay is one of nine people Carola Giedion-Welcker cites as sources for her book about Brancusi (Neuchâtel, 1958). Delaunay must have visited him fairly often. In this case she went to his studio at 8 impasse Ronsin and left him a note on her calling card. The same Brancusi collection contains a letter from Sonia to the sculptor dated 1929, as well as three postcards dated 1955 and 1956, one of which is co-signed by Nelly van Doesburg. This note to Brancusi may well date from the latter years, when Delaunay was working alongside Jean Cassou and Georges Salles on Brancusi’s donation to the Musée National d’Art Moderne. (Brancusi died in 1957. In 2005, Sonia and Robert Delaunay’s donation to the Centre Georges Pompidou was exhibited in the Galerie de l’Atelier Brancusi.)

Constantin Brancusi, Bouquet dans l’atelier (Bouquet in the studio), b/w photograph, c. 1933-34. Collection Centre Pompidou, Musée d’Art moderne, Paris. Copyright Centre Pompidou, MNAM- CCI. © Succession Brancusi – All rights reserved / 2023, ProLitteris, Zurich - © Oracles: Artists’ Calling Cards

Constantin Brancusi, Bouquet dans l’atelier (Bouquet in the studio), b/w photograph, c. 1933-34. Collection Centre Pompidou, Musée d’Art moderne, Paris. Copyright Centre Pompidou, MNAM- CCI. © Succession Brancusi – All rights reserved / 2023, ProLitteris, Zurich

Husband’s name. Her card bears her husband’s name preceded by the title “Madame”. It may amaze us today that an illustrious artist, instead of using the name she had made for herself, would put her husband’s name on her personal card. It was not always that way. On her professional cards printed during the 1924–1930 period of her commercial ventures (Atelier Simultané textile design, then Maison Sonia Delaunay fashion followed by Tissus Delaunay textiles again), the name Sonia precedes her last name. Conversely, Robert Delaunay would occasionally borrow her stationery, replete with its “Sonia Delaunay” letterhead and commercial registration number, for his own correspondence (cf. his May 4, 1929, letter to the Revue mondiale, recently sold on eBay). Textile designer Sonia Delaunay did indeed take top billing there. So did she use “Madame Robert Delaunay” to recall her late husband after his death in 1941 ? It is true that after the war his widow set about promoting his work, putting together a first retrospective at the Galerie Louis Carré in late 1946. However, it was not in homage to Robert that his name graced her card. It was merely an enduring social convention for the wife’s identity to be eclipsed by her husband’s. In a word, this is just an old-fashioned calling card that conformed to long-established etiquette, with no further indication that the name it bears is that of the bearer’s husband.

Sherry Buckberrough
“Being Russian in Paris”, Sonia Delaunay, London, Tate Publishing, 2014

Carola Giedion-Welcker
Constantin Brancusi (1876–1957), Neuchâtel, Éditions du Griffon, 1959

Christian Besson — Theo van Doesburg was born Christiaan Emil Marie Küpper in Utrecht on August 30, 1883. His legal father, Wilhelm Küpper, from Bonn, abandoned his pregnant wife and went back to Germany. After his death, the boy’s mother, Henrietta Catherina Margadant, remarried in 1893 to Theodorus Doesburg, who was introduced to 10-year-old Christiaan as his stepfather (and whose name, slightly abridged, the budding artist would take for his pseudonym before the age of twenty). And yet the civil registers of Utrecht and Amsterdam, where his mother lived in succession, suggest that Theodorus Doesburg, to whom the boy was very attached, might have been his real father (in which case he was of Dutch and not German paternity). Even if his real name (by filiation) was “Christiaan Emil Marie Doesburg”, he never used it. He preferred “Theo van Doesburg” (Théo in Paris), beginning with his first exhibition in 1908 and his first published articles in the review Eenheid in 1912. He served under the name “Sergeant Küpper”, however, in the Dutch army during the war from 1914 to 1916.
Brancusi. This card is from Brancusi’s archives. Van Doesburg wrote a brief note on it recommending an unnamed visitor to the Romanian sculptor and went to the trouble of writing Brancusi’s address on the back. The Brancusi collection at the Bibliothèque Kandinsky holds several letters from van Doesburg, one of which is signed “Theo van Doesburg”, the others “Petro” and “Nellitza”, diminutive forms of Nelly van Doesburg.

Does. Van Doesburg would sign his missives to familiars “Does” or “euer Does” (your Does), even “der Does” (the Does). So Hans Arp would begin his letters to van Doesburg : “Lieber Does” (Dear Does). To which Does would reply in kind : “Lieber Hans”.
Pétro. Van Doesburg included his wife in this little message, using a diminutive, “Nelly” (“Nellitza” is another), of her first name, “Petronella”. Although the widow who was to uphold van Doesburg’s memory after his death in 1931 was known as “Nelly van Doesburg”, her familiars usually called her “Petro”. This was the name she used on their Dada tour of Holland in early 1923. For Dada purposes, van Doesburg was “I. K. Bonset”, a secret pseudonym he used (sometimes alternating “Aldo Camini”) even inside the review De Stijl (unbeknownst to Mondrian : “Who is this Bonset anyway ?”). This pragmatic duplicity enabled him to state on the Dadaist review Mecano : “literary director I. K. Bonset, visual arts technician Theo van Doesburg” – as though he had only done the design.
Painter and architect. Little is known of van Doesburg’s education. He was basically an autodidact who rubbed shoulders with the right people : in painting, de Winter, Mondrian and Huszár ; in architecture, J. J. P. Oud. “Painter and architect” on his business card sound like self-proclaimed titles – a dubious practice that Does would hardly have condoned in anyone else !
Paris. After the years spent teaching at the Bauhaus in Weimar, a brief stay in Berlin, and an equally brief return to The Hague, Theo and Nelly moved to Paris in May 1923. After a short stay with Mondrian, they rented an apartment at 51 rue du Moulin Vert in the 14 th arrondissement. When Paul Horn (developer of Aubette cabaret-dance hall in Strasbourg) wrote to Theo van Doesburg on November 9, 1926, he addressed his letter to :

Monsieur van Doesburg
Directeur du “Stijl”

Theo had a studio at 84 avenue Schneider in Clamart from February 1, 1924 to the end of 1927. After his Strasbourg period, from July 19, 1928, to late 1930, van Doesburg took a different studio in Paris at Villa Corot (2 rue d’Arcueil). So the card dates from his first or second Paris period. Probably the second: his June 1929 response to a survey by the review Europa ended with the same complimentary close as the one he wrote on his visiting card.
Director of the De Stijl review and movement. The review remained based in Holland, namely in Delft (October 1917), then Leyden (November 1918) to its last issue in 1928, which was all about Aubette. A posthumous issue came out in 1932 in homage to the late van Doesburg ; readers could address requests for a copy to : “Mme Pétro van Doesburg, 41 rue Charles Infroit, Meudon (S. et O.)” [for Seine-et-Oise, a department abolished on January 1, 1968].

Christian Besson — Sophie Taeuber. Sophie Henriette Gertrud Taeuber was born in Davos in 1889. She met Hans Arp at the Tanner Gallery in Zurich in 1915 and, when they married on October 20, 1922, took his name. The name on this card reverses the surname “Taeuber-Arp” used in the catalogs for exhibitions she took part in during her lifetime (e.g. Cercle et Carré and Abstraction-Création). She rarely used her maiden name “Taeuber” alone. It was not until the 1989 and 1990 shows at the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris and the Musée Cantonal des Beaux-Arts in Lausanne that she began using “Sophie Taeuber” again off and on, reverting to the double surname, however, for the 2009–10 show in Davos and Rolandseck.
In accordance with the prevailing norms back then, in spite of her professional renown as an artist, she became Madame Arp when she got married. Around 1930, Calder listed the couple among his Parisian contacts in an address book (Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution) as follows :

M. et Mme Hans Arp
21 rue des Châtaigniers
Directeur du “Stijl”
Meudon (S et O)

The H middle initial on Sophie’s card is (intentionally?) ambiguous. She may have been playing on the polysemy of the H to mean either S(ophie) H(enriette) Arp-Taeuber or S(ophie)/H(ans) Arp-Taeuber. The latter would be a bit like “Nat King Cole”, in which a qualifier comes between the first and last names, thus inserting Arp’s name inside her own.
Her name did indeed undergo plenty of fluctuations, indicative of the plight of the married woman artist. The masthead of the review Plastique, which she ran from 1937–39, is a good example : the first issue says typeset by “S. H. Taeuber-Arp”, among others ; subscriptions to be addressed to “S. H. Arp, 21 rue des Châtaigniers […]” and correspondence to “Mme Arp […]”; the managing editor is a certain “S. H. Taeuber”.

21 rue des Châtaigniers, Meudon, Val-Fleury S-O. The close ties between the two couples, Moorsel/Doesburg and Taeuber/Arp, date from the days of Dada. In 1926, Hans Arp and Sophie Taeuber resided in Strasbourg so he could obtain French nationality. Architect Paul Horn took advantage of the opportunity to commission Sophie to decorate his house and then, with his brother André, the illustrious Aubette complex ; they called in Theo van Doesburg for the latter project. That same year, van Doesburg produced his first designs for a house to accommodate both couples : he and Nelly van Moorsel, his partner since 1921, and the Arps. They eventually decided to build two separate houses in Val-Fleury, a wooded area on the outskirts of the Paris suburbs Meudon and Clamart. Doesburg designed his own house (29 rue Charles Infroit) but never got to enjoy it : he died in Davos, where he had been staying for his asthma, on March 7, 1931, before construction was completed. Nelly, who officially became “Mme Küpper” on November 24, 1928, though everyone still called her “Nelly van Doesburg”, lived in the house in Val-Fleury till her death in 1975.
In 1925, Arp and Taeuber rented a modest studio at Villa des Fusains, rue Tourlaque, near Montmartre cemetery. Sophie was shuttling back and forth between Strasbourg, Zurich and Paris. Then she embarked on the project of designing her future home, whose construction did not commence till 1928, on some land which Nelly van Doesburg had acquired in 1926 using her inheritance from her father, Petrus Bartholomeus van Moorsel, and had sold to Arp in the spring of 1927. Rue des Châtaigniers, situated on the edge of the Val-Fleury quarter of Meudon, technically lies within the town limits of neighboring Clamart. Indifferent to administrative niceties, Sophie simply put “Meudon-Val Fleury” on her business card.
“Once their work in Strasbourg was finished,” Gabrielle Buffet-Picabia wrote at the time, “Sophie and Jean left Switzerland for good and settled down in Meudon, in a house that is their house : she designed it herself and oversaw its construction. Since then she has devoted herself entirely to her art and that of Jean Arp. The Meudon house is composed of two studios one on top of the other, and they each work in their separate studios, exchanging queries from time to time, from one floor to the other, asking how the other’s work is coming along.”
Décoration Meubles. The bottom line “DÉCORATION MEUBLES” (Decoration Furniture) clearly makes this a professional card. An alumna of the applied arts schools in Munich and Hamburg, Sophie Taeuber in 1915 became a member of the Swiss Werkbund (an association of artists and designers) and a professor at Zurich’s Kunstgewerbeschule (school of arts and crafts), where she taught textiles. She quit in 1929 to freelance thereafter from her studio on rue des Châtaigniers.
She was the first of the bunch to work for the two Horn brothers (designing the colorful interiors of Hôtel Hannong as well as André Horn’s apartment), and she and Arp were first picked by the brothers to redecorate the Aubette in Strasbourg, before Theo van Doesburg, brought aboard by Arp, took over. In 1928 she fitted out the Goemans Gallery on rue de Seine in Paris, and back in Strasbourg she decorated Georges Henry Meyer’s house and a villa for a physician, Dr. Heimendinger. She decorated Strasbourg art dealer Ernest Rott’s apartment in Paris in 1930, Theodor and Woty Werner’s spacious apartment in 1931 and a house built by professor of architecture Ludwig Hilberseimer in Berlin in 1935, among other projects. She also designed modular furniture (bookcase, cupboards) for her own house, some of which can now be viewed at the Arp Foundation in Clamart. In 1932 she quit the Swiss Werkbund and in 1937 joined the Allianz (a.k.a. Vereinigung Moderner Schweizer Künstler, an “Association of Modern Swiss Artists” founded by Max Bill and Theo Leuppi). It was in the Zurich studio of Max Bill – like Sophie, he was an all-round artist : painter, sculptor, designer and architect – that she died accidentally on the night of January 12, 1943.
(Non-)recognition. After Sophie Taeuber’s death, Arp wrote several articles and poems celebrating her work and inveighing against the general disdain for works of applied art. Greta Stroeh (1989) sums up what made it so hard to obtain due recognition for her achievements : “Sophie Taeuber’s work was long belittled for several reasons : a disregard for works by women in general, and women artists in particular ; an enduring contempt for the useful nature of applied arts despite the breakthrough of movements like Jugendstil ; her early death in 1943 ; the shadow of Arp’s work… How come she never exhibited with the very Dadaists she kept company with ? How come Carola Giedion-Welcker (Arp’s first exegete) never wrote a single line about her ? Why did Tristan Tzara, Sonia Delaunay and Nelly van Doesburg rebuke Seuphor for including her in his 1949 [exhibition catalog] L’Art abstrait : ses origines, ses premiers maîtres ?”

Georg Schmidt (ed.)
Sophie Taeuber-Arp, Basel, Holbein Verlag, 1948

Damarice Amao — In 1972, László Moholy-Nagy’s first wife, Lucia Moholy, née Schulz in 1894 in Prague, published Marginal Notes : Documentary Absurdities, an account of the Hungarian artist’s decisive years at the Bauhaus. His second wife, Sybil, whose work as an architect and art historian had endeavored to carry on his legacy, had just died. Was it a mere coincidence that Lucia Moholy should decide to speak her piece at long last ?
Marginal Notes, published in a bilingual German/English edition, does indeed seek to set the record straight, to correct the biographers’ mistakes and approximations. Aside from some personal details about the year of their marriage (1921) and their actual financial situation, Lucia Moholy’s object is to recall her place beside Moholy-Nagy in the “rediscovery” of the photogram and in the theoretical formulation of the ideas he developed, especially regarding visual modernity.

Their conversations about questions of production and reproduction in art, their 1922 visit to a school with innovative teaching methods, where pupils made photograms, and their discovery of works of scientific popularization ultimately gave rise to the ideas articulated in his Malerei, Fotografie, Film (Painting, Photography, Film). As Moholy-Nagy had a poor command of German at the time, this book, published in 1925 by Bauhausbücher, might never have seen the light of day had it not been for his wife’s intellectual input and actually writing up the German text. And without this book, without Lucia, the history of photography and modern art might have taken a very different turn…
Regarding her overall contribution to the publications of the Bauhaus, where she taught from 1923 to 1929 at Walter Gropius’s request, Moholy recollects in Marginal Notes : “I was, over a number of years, responsible for the wording and editing of the texts that appeared in books, essays, articles, reviews and manifestos. My contribution was formally acknowledged by Moholy-Nagy in the preface to Bauhaus Book 14, 1929, where he referred to it as an appreciable improvement and elucidation in thought and wording.”
So why was Lucia Moholy gradually forgotten in the history of the Bauhaus ? Was she a victim of both phallocentric art history and deep-seated misogyny even in an institution as progressive as the Bauhaus ? Moholy was not one to put the blame on others, much less her ex-husband, who died prematurely in 1944. As she explains in Marginal Notes, the couple had agreed not to credit her for most of her work.
So why speak up so many years later, in 1972 ? After reading a rave review of Moholy-Nagy’s expressiveness and dazzling prose in Malerei, Fotographie, Film, she was overcome with a sense of guilt – guilt and not annoyance, strangely enough – first towards friends and colleagues she had misled, then towards the ideal of historical rectitude. Skeptical historians, however, suspected more worldly designs behind this sudden urge to set the historical record straight : in a word, an attempt to formally lay claim to her late ex-husband’s estate. Whatever her true motives, she took them with her into the grave in 1989.
After retiring from her work as a photographer, teacher and UNESCO archivist, Lucia Moholy settled in Zurich in 1959 and later wrote Marginal Notes. She did not by any means withdraw from the world : on the contrary, she remained at the core of a number of networks in her capacity as a Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society (FRPS) and member of the Schweizerischer Werkbund (SWB, Swiss Craftsmen’s Society). As an honorary member of the International Association of Art Critics (AICA), moreover, she worked on reconstructing the history of the Bauhaus based on her own archives and photographs – or at least what was left of them after her hurried flight from Berlin in 1933 and the bombing of her London studio in World War II. Starting in the 1970s, she gradually reconstituted her collection of documents about the life of the Bauhaus – about modernist buildings built in Dessau, creative work from the various studios – and her portraits, in the spirit of the New Objectivity, of Bauhaus masters and students, including Wassily Kandinsky, Florence Henri and of course Moholy-Nagy. She also produced at the time some of the most iconic portraits of her late ex-husband, which contributed to the personal mythology of the Modernist artist/engineer.
There are only a handful of extant first-hand accounts of Lucia Moholy, which often seek to explain her self-effacement as a characteristic psychological trait of photographers in general. Historian Robin Schuldenfrei’s recent work has also pointed up that she was compelled to keep a low profile by her former peers. Walter Gropius, who possessed some of her negatives from the Bauhaus period (1925–28), long refused to give them back to her, claiming they had disappeared in the 1930s. Before finally returning the pictures thirty years later, Gropius made ample use of them himself, publishing dozens of her photographs in his books on Bauhaus history. Gropius’s deliberate failure to credit the photographer contributed to the general tendency to overlook Lucia Moholy. It took a long time for her, and historians like Rolf Sachsse, to set the record straight in the 1980s and re-establish a certain balance in telling the story of the Bauhaus.

Lucia Moholy
Moholy-Nagy, Marginal Notes: Documentary Absurdities, Krefeld, Scherpe Verlag, 1972

Christian Besson — Annelise Else Frieda Fleischmann is unknown to most of us. Whilst a student at the Bauhaus she became Anni Albers in 1925, and this is the name we know her by, if at all. She began teaching weaving and textile design in 1933 at Black Mountain College, a progressive college with an experimental interdisciplinary approach, in which the study of art was considered central to a liberal arts education, founded in North Carolina that very year ; and was subsequently more often than not seen as a subset of “the Albers” – or more correctly “the Alberses”, as some American historians wrote it. She is hardly mentioned in monographs on Josef Albers (e.g. Eugen Gomringer’s in 1972). The assumption of male superiority was compounded by the assumed superiority of the fine arts to the applied arts. As in the case of Sophie Taeuber and Sonia Delaunay, the women’s work in textiles was deemed inherently inferior to the men’s painting or sculpting, despite all the theoretical writings about bringing all the arts together. Probably to redress this double bias, the Josef and Anni Albers Foundation website now opens on a double portrait of the Albers.
This hierarchy of the arts was not absent from the Bauhaus. Annie Albers herself had reservations at first, as she recalls : “So the only thing that was open to me was the weaving workshop. […] I did not like the idea at all in the beginning because I thought weaving is sissy, just these threads.” (Oral history interview with Anni Albers, July 5, 1968, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.)
“The Albers” card was clearly drafted for socializing purposes, to announce the couple’s visit or introduce them. The absence of any other information suggests it was only intended for people who already knew them and betokens a certain familiarity. As with Sonia and Robert Delaunay or Sophie Taeuber and Hans Arp, the couple’s shared artistic adventure is writ large in the use of a collective surname.

Manuel Cirauqui — The name written on the card makes the rectangular shape of the latter very hard to trivialize. It brings to mind the infinite negotiation of rectangle proportions, as opposed to the sole and inexhaustible identity of the square. The square is one ; the rectangle is many. The card, in fact, was two – one presenting the inscription “the albers”, the other one “Albers” only – and they were found by Aurélie Jacquet in December 2015, among Josef Albers’s personal papers at the Josef and Anni Albers Foundation in Bethany, Connecticut. They were not business cards, or not yet, but trials for a card that the Albers allegedly never used. As pointed out by Brenda Danilowitz, the Albers Foundation’s chief curator, the corner of one of the objects reveals it was cut by hand. We may well assume the cut was probably made by Josef, probably after the measurements of the rectangle were established, and this probably after the measurements of the letters were set. And we can but suppose that the letters were already printed on the paper sheet before the paper became a card or a semblance of a card.

The distance between “Albers” and “the albers” will remain undecidable. One may be prone to picture the former hovering, like an aura or an idea, over the two artists’ home in Orange ; the latter, over the couple itself. They did live as one while making work that did not quite diverge, maintaining a resemblance that echoed the serendipitous familiarity of the artists’ own faces. Though perhaps the synthetic figure resulting of each of their formal trajectories – if we can dream of a form that summarizes each life and all the forms produced through it – may not say so. Both evolved in the plenitude of work, and in both cases the practice is greater than the addition of its products ; neither should be summarized by the emblematic example. If one meant to chart the concentric constellations of color relation, the other would move toward an ever deeper understanding of the weave – the weave beneath the weave, the text of the textile. In both cases we are speaking of a manner of infinity or infinite search that is itself a realization ; rather a rectangle than a square.

Anni Albers in her weaving studio at Black Mountain College, Asheville, NC, 1937. Photograph by Helen M. Post. Courtesy of the Western Regional Archives, State Archives of North Carolina. - © Oracles: Artists’ Calling Cards

Anni Albers in her weaving studio at Black Mountain College, Asheville, NC, 1937. Photograph by Helen M. Post. Courtesy of the Western Regional Archives, State Archives of North Carolina.

Both Josef and Anni were Albers, and thus they will be remembered ; yet the name itself belongs to the male party and comes to replace the Fleischman that Anni may not have wanted to keep in other historical circumstances. And one may think of the interaction between first and last name as one of neighboring colors, an intersection in Josef’s terms – though the invisible resonances, phonetic and of meaning, seem much more volatile and vague than those of vibrant hues. And while vowels are carriers of imaginary colors, and consonants find their correspondences in textures, the element of memory – a residue or a desire of the word – appears truncated, half-erased, and inevitably concealed : Annelise Fleischman, then Annelise Albers, then Anni Albers, as the captioning protocol establishes for her works of different periods. But let us not forget that all family names are false allegories, and at their best they are undecipherable.
Anni and Josef were “the albers” or rather “the Alberses”, since the “s” at the end of Josef’s name is certainly not plural. But again : the idea of a name shining like an aura over a family home may not exactly be false but it is a disturbance, an interference if one is trying to think, precisely, through the idealistic abstraction of the name – the name as a printed object on a card. For only then, looking at the proportions of the word, the name finds its form as well as the measurements of the paper around it. Whether or not to use a “the” before “albers” was not, I will guess, a matter of meaning.

Klaus-Peter Speidel — Giving someone your card can feel awkward. This is, I believe, because there is a fundamental tension at the heart of the calling card: it oscillates between the personal and the impersonal. Giving someone your card is giving that person access to you, telling them – as detectives say in movies – how to find you, which is, both symbolically and in fundamental human terms, a big deal. So it can be very hard to figure out if, when and how to hand over your card – especially if you are sensibly sensitive. Pulling out a cheap mass-produced item does not exactly feel like a good start for a personal relationship. In this respect calling cards can be a problem to be solved. There are different ways out of the predicament, some individual, some community-based.
The problem with cards that are strictly for business is somewhat less pressing. In some business contexts and countries like Japan, for example, handing over a card is not a matter of personal choice but of collective ritual. If a meeting starts with an exchange of cards, there’s nothing awkward about handing out your own.

Another, more personal, way out of one of the calling card predicament is to have two cards: a personal card and a corporate card. The trick is to give you a choice: since you could have given someone a corporate card, giving them your personal card is like declaring that you are interested in having a personal relationship – even if your second card is a cheap mass-produced item as well. While these are complexities which may not have consciously motivated the creation of a personal card in the first place, they are nevertheless undeniable. The desire to have a card of one’s own may first be linked to the urge to escape from the symbolism of most corporate cards, which traditionally foreground corporate rather than personal identity. On an IBM card, for instance, the IBM logo comes first and is bigger than the name, which is printed in small letters below. There is a symbolic violence to this branding which hardly appears anywhere else with the same poignancy – especially if what Paul Valéry says is right – and I think he is : “No individual conceives directly that he is man – no one is man – but the center, goal, base and end of all. No more than he can understand that he has to die does he understand that he is only a detail. And, lastly, he never knows these things except through reason.” (Paul Valéry, “Tel quel”, trans. Frederick Morgan in The Hudson Review, spring 1951). On 85x55 mm an IBM card seems to tell me: This person belongs to us. If the name changes, the card will still look the same. It doesn’t make any difference to us and it shouldn’t make a difference to you.

So to make a personal card is to assert a personal identity above and beyond a corporate brand. The problem is of course different if you are self-employed, because you constantly have to negotiate the relationship between yourself and your job. This may already be a problem for real estate agents, but the problem grows bigger as jobs get closer to who people are outside their jobs, as is the case with artists – who also have the problem of being considered “creatives”, which may lead others to expect a creative approach to their card. One way out of the predicament may then be to just make a card that looks as though no creative effort whatsoever went into it. But this is, of course, question-begging, refusing to accept the challenge. If you are in a profession seen as creative, making your card becomes a professional challenge beyond the social one. As I see it, the two cards made by Claude Closky are answers to some of these problems. The artist conceived them for sensitive people who, quite like himself, had a hard time making a card, let alone handing it out to people. As he told me, Closky did not feel comfortable with the idea of having a card and only conceived his own card because someone else wanted him to make theirs. Only when the latter was there to be erased was he able to create a card for himself. What is important, however, is that, fictionally speaking, the cards are erased cards. Erasing a name on a card to replace it with your own carries a certain symbolic violence : we know that someone else gave me their card so I would remember them. Now, as I make their card mine, I perform an act of appropriation, but I also tell you, who receive my card, that you having my contact is more important to me than my having the other person’s. In other words : my relationship to you is more important. Now, of course this is not really what happened. The card creates a micro-fiction. Closky was first asked by Olivier Vadrot, a designer, if he could design a business card for him. Closky proposed making a card that Vadrot could erase and vice versa. Vadrot accepted. The card is the result. In this sense, Closky’s card is a case of make-believe, which is easily understood as such once you realize that the card is a multiple and that both the original name and the handwritten name have been printed. The violence of crossing out the name is neutralized by the fact that the other person did the same and that both crossings-out were based on an agreement. This is a case where logical and metaphorical truths match up: a double negation becomes an affirmation.

Claude Closky,* Autoportrait sans tête* (Headless self-portrait), b/w photograph and ballpoint pen on paper, 1993. Courtesy of Galerie Laurent Godin, Paris. - © Oracles: Artists’ Calling Cards

Claude Closky, Autoportrait sans tête (Headless self-portrait), b/w photograph and ballpoint pen on paper, 1993. Courtesy of Galerie Laurent Godin, Paris.

Upon seeing Vadrot’s card, David Fleiss asked Closky to do for him what he had done for Vadrot. Closky again accepted. The card here is the result of this second exchange. One interesting aspect of this reactualization is that David Fleiss’s initial card was a corporate card bearing the big corporate logo of Galerie 1900–2000, the gallery he took over from his father, Marcel. The new version only shows his own name and address. So in a certain sense, it also plays out the above-discussed contrast between corporate and personal identities. As the micro-fiction unfolds, we bear witness to a family affair.

Christian Besson — Silvia Rehsteiner, born in St. Gallen, Switzerland, on December 7, 1935, does not go by that name in any of her own catalogs. From 1975 to 1994 she was generally known as half of the couple “Chérif & Silvie Defraoui” (or more rarely “Silvie & Chérif Defraoui”). They formed a “community for conceptual and multimedia production” at the time and, also in 1975, set up a renowned Mixed Media Studio at Geneva’s École Supérieure d’Art Visuel. Publications bearing the sole name “Silvie Defraoui” were similarly few and far between. After Chérif died in 1994, however, Silvie developed her own personal work in her own name.

Silvie and Chérif Defraoui, of Italian and German and of English and French descent, respectively, lived in various places around the world and in the 1960s began to divide their time between Corbera de Llobregat in Spain and Vufflens-le-Chateau in Francophone Switzerland (incidentally, Michael Schumacher also lived in Vufflens-le-Chateau and Ferdinand de Saussure died there). They trained in different disciplines – Chérif studied literature and law in Geneva, Silvie art at the École des Beaux-Arts in Algiers and the École des Arts Décoratifs in Geneva – and worked separately before eventually developing a joint project, exploring the same questions regarding images, their status and function in contemporary society.
Chérif, who wrote poetry, film and theater reviews, and articles about current Spanish culture, presented his first personal exhibition at the Gaëtan Gallery in Geneva in 1971, while Silvie exhibited the same year, likewise for the first time, at the St. Gallen Art Museum, her ceramics and sculptures juxtaposed with architectural works of the previous decade.
In 1975 they produced their first joint works as partners – signed “C. & S. Defraoui” –, which were also shown at the Gaëtan Gallery in Geneva (Françoise Ninghetto, SIK ISEA online lexicon, 2004).
The email address seems to have been a later addition to a card that originally only gave the phone/fax number. Was it added merely for graphic effect or for state-of-the-art communication ?