Brandeis Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (BOLLI)

The Material Innovations of Avant-Garde Women Artists

Course Number


Study Group Leader (SGL)

Talia Kwartler


This course will take place virtually on Zoom with a cap of 40. Participation in this course requires a device (ideally a computer or tablet, rather than a cell phone) with a camera and microphone in good working order and basic familiarity with using Zoom and accessing email.

5-Week Course

 Feb. 27 - March 26.


This course will explore the diverse materials used by four avant-garde women artists – Sonia Delaunay, Sophie Taeuber-Arp, Suzanne Duchamp, and Anni Albers – in the period between 1910 and 1950. It will consider how these artists pushed their chosen materials beyond their established conventions to make radically new forms of art. These artists were all married to artists with whom they collaborated. Despite their individual successes, they have not received  the same recognition accorded their male partners. This course shifts the focus to these artists’ innovative uses of their materials to explore the boundaries between fine art, fashion, and the applied arts. In this way, a poem could become a painting, or the pattern on a beaded bag could register like an abstract artwork. We will first look at these artists separately before considering their personal relationships to each other.

Together, we will examine how Delaunay heightened the interplay between fashion, abstraction, and painting. Then, we will consider how a range of materials offered Taeuber-Arp the tools to reshape art. We will also explore how Duchamp used words to create a hybrid language of painting. Finally, we will look at weaving as an artistic approach taken up by Albers and as a metaphor for her creative practice. By bringing these artists together, we can better understand their individual and collaborative artistic practices as well as the networks of cultural and material exchange that they orchestrated.  

Group Leadership Style

More facilitated discussion than lecture.

Course Materials

Assignments will include looking at artworks online, reading writings by the selected artists online, and learning more about the scholarship during this period through a selection of primary and secondary literature.    

Preparation Time

Weekly preperation time should be about an hour. 


Talia Kwartler, PhD, received her doctorate in the History of Art from University College London in 2022. Her dissertation was the first major study of the Dadaist Suzanne Duchamp; she has adapted it into the forthcoming book, Suzanne Duchamp par elle-même (2023). Earlier, Kwartler worked at the Museum of Modern Art in New York on Francis Picabia (2016–2017) and Max Ernst (2017–2018). She also holds a bachelor’s degree in Art and Archaeology with a certificate in Italian from Princeton University and a master’s degree in the History of Art from the University of Oxford.