Isabelle Waldberg (1911-1990), a French-Swiss sculptor associated with the abstract movement, belongs to a line of women artists whose work is still little known. In addition to being the first woman to direct a sculpture workshop at the National School of Fine Arts in Paris, she was awarded many prizes and her work was exhibited worldwide. Her first monographic exhibition was held in 1944 by Peggy Guggenheim in New York.
As much an artist as an intellectual, Isabelle Waldberg was highly educated in the field of social sciences, a subject which systematically fuelled her artistic output and enabled her to occupy an important position in the cultural and intellectual landscape of the time: from Georges Bataille’s College of Sociology to the circle of Surrealists exiled in New York during World War II, she rubbed shoulders with major personalities and developed a singular aesthetic sculpture poised between figuration and abstraction.
Isabelle Waldberg’s art went through different periods, each of which present specific stylistic and thematic preferences, in which ethnology, philosophy, history and literature are combined and interact. In the 1940s, she created aerial constructions made out of beech branches intended as an exploration of existential questions. In the 1950s-60s, she moved on to half-human, half-plant hybrid entities and, later still, to self-portraits celebrating femininity through the fragmented depiction of intimacy. The 60s-70s saw her creating vertical architectures that demonstrated her singular conception of corporeity. While Isabelle Waldberg’s work is characterised by series and a constant thirst for experimentation – the artist uses a variety of materials, forms, techniques, and colours, as well as the polarity between figuration and abstraction –, eroticism in its many forms and facets also runs through a major part of her sculptural production.
Isabelle Waldberg, 1960, view of the Atelier 44, rue D’Orsel, Paris, Courtesy Corinne Waldberg, © ADAGP, Paris
The aim of this research is to explore the multiple and varied ways in which the sculptor approached the theme of eroticism. First of all, we will study the different experiences, influences and research that shaped the artist’s vision and provided her with the appropriate imagery. Next we will examine her visual and literary work, in order to understand which strategies she adopted to tackle the subject, what types of commentaries and metaphors these works convey, and in what measure her approach was part of a broader framework, especially that of the output of other women artists at the time.
Master 2 research thesis supervised by Valérie Da Costa and presented by Nikoleta Tsagkari on 19 September 2013 at the University of Strasbourg.