Summary of Arman
Arman is most associated with the Nouveau Réalisme (New Realism) movement that emerged in 1960, and which represented France's response to the trend of Pop art that was sweeping Europe and the United States. Arman had first emerged as a lyrical abstract painter, but he soon rejected the style and began making sculpture inspired by the concept of the readymade. Arman's most notable work was preoccupied with the consequences of mass production: his Accumulations often reflected on the identical character of modern objects; his Poubelles, or "trash cans," considered the waste that results when these objects are discarded; and his Coleres, or "rages," expressed an almost irrational rage at objects that, in modern times, threatened to dominate everyday life. At his best, Arman delivered a powerful and chilling rejection of modernization and the culture of mass consumption. Later, he developed an aesthetic based on the act of destruction, his pieces commemorating the obliteration objects in various ways.
- Many of Arman's early sculptures point to the strangeness inherent in the idea of identical, mass produced objects. Gathering these identical objects together, he distracts us from their functional purpose and presents them instead as endlessly repeated forms - forms which seem to have a deeper meaning that, bia the processes of modernization, has been lost to us. In his focus on repetition, Arman's work echoes that of many American Minimalists and Pop artists of the same period.
- Arman was important in pioneering the European return to Marcel Duchamp's idea of the readymade (and to Assemblage). Arman's fascination with it points to his belief that contemporary sculpture had to confront the commodity. That is, sculpture could no longer be crafted by hand, or displayed as a testimony to craft skills and imagination; instead it had to respond to the characteristics of mass-produced consumer goods.
- Arman's persistent use of trash was a deliberate nod to the waste that mass production generates when time passes and goods are discarded. It also points to the wreckage of human history and the threat that humanity's production of waste might eventually literally bury us. In this respect, Arman's work might be read as an important early response to environmental issues.
Important Art by Arman
Inspired by a rubber stamp collage by Kurt Schwitters, Arman considered Mauve Administratif to be among his first mature works. It is an example of his cachets, or "imprints." It incorporates areas of abstract painting in the manner of the lyrical abstraction that he had previously employed, but brings new, Minimalist-like methods to bear. In this way Arman married expressive brushwork with readymade motifs that carried no trace of the artist - an incongruous mix of opposites. The "collection" of imprints in the piece can be considered the root of the majority of his later work that featured a similar repetition of motifs. These stamp-and-ink works led to experimentation with other objects, such as hats and clothing, but Arman eventually found that he preferred to work with solid objects because they would retain their shape.
Estate of the artist
Le Plein (Full-up) which took place at Galerie Iris Clert, was inspired by Yves Klein's exhibition Le Vide (The Void). Klein's conceptual exhibition was also staged the Clert gallery in 1957, and consisted of an empty gallery with an empty display case. Originally planned to be shown immediately after Klein's installation, it took Arman two years to convince the gallery director to agree to his answer to Klein's exhibition. Arman originally wanted to have the garbage deposited in the gallery by sanitation workers - an indication of his interest in chance, and his desire to distance himself as author of the work - but he ended up collecting it himself when the city refused. When Arman's installation was completed, people could only view it through the glass windows of the gallery which had been completely filled with trash. Although a direct response to Klein's work, Le Plein showcased Arman's interest in the Dadaist's use of found and discarded objects. Klein is quoted as saying, "After my own emptiness comes Arman's fullness. The universal memory of art was lacking his conclusive mummification of quantification."
Garbage - Originally exhibited at Galerie Iris Clert, Paris
This particular colere was made at a television studio during the making of an American documentary about French avant-garde art. When asked in an interview about his attraction to acts of violence, Arman cited his fascination with the ability of war to channel sexual energy. In fact critics have often made parallels between the coleres and contemporary conflicts, though Arman was never too eager to make these connections himself. For him, destruction was simply another perspective through which to view the object. As he put it, "destruction is more to stop the time." Indeed, he saw his different tactics of multiplication and destruction as closely related approaches to the object. "My intent," he said, "is in exploring the various worlds of the object."
Broken bass fiddle mounted on wood panel - Estate of the artist
Little Hands is typical of the strategy behind Arman's Accumulations series, where he would gather identical objects together and display them in a vitrine, or glass-fronted case. Works such as this have often been described as Surrealist, since Surrealist artists were typically intrigued by mannequins and other discarded commodities. But Arman's method of accumulating objects shifts the emphasis from the peculiarities of the individual object to the phenomena of repetition and mass production. Some critics have suggested that the inspiration for such works might have come instead from Alain Resnais film Night and Fog (1955), the first documentary film about the Holocaust, which contained images of the piled clothing and other identical objects taken from prisoners upon their admission to concentration camps. This reading seems to properly capture the violence of Little Hands, with its awful suggestion of a massacre of the innocents.
Dolls' hands - Artists' estate
Long Term Parking
This ambitious sculpture stands 50 feet high, consisting of 60 cars encased in over 40,000 pounds of concrete. As a monument to modernity, it might be compared with Vladimir Tatlin's Monument to the Third International (1919-20), which was conceived as a celebration of a new era of technology and progress following the Russian Revolution of 1917. By contrast, Long Term Parking calls attention to the failure of modern utopias. The concrete shell leaves the vehicles functionally useless, pouring scorn on the products of mass production and the overblown proportions of American consumerism. Completed over the course of seven years, it represents the culmination of Arman's Accumulations series.
Automobiles in concrete - Chateau de Montcel, Jouy-en-Josas, France
Clocks and timepieces make recurring appearances in Arman's work, a reflection of his abiding interest in time. Yet when asked if he had an obsession with time, he demurred, explaining that his desire to freeze time has more to do with an obsession with memories. "Memory creates time," he said. "Time doesn't exist. It doesn't exist in any way. It's more subjective than real. Time doesn't exist. I believe in memory. Memory is the real inspiration. Memory creates time. Memory is pure power. Pure power and pure strength, and pure utilization of space and time (if time is something we can really ever label). But I don't believe in time itself."
Alarm clocks in Plexiglas - Estate of the artist
Biography of Arman
Arman was born Armand Pierre Fernandez to Marie Jacquet and Antonio Fernandez in 1928. In his early years, Arman lived alone with Marie, who did not marry Antonio until Arman was five, and during those years he often relied on his own imagination and invention to occupy himself. Learning to play chess at the age of eight, Arman retained an interest in games of strategy throughout his life.
Although Arman admired his mother's strength of character, it was his father's cultural interests that shaped his career. Antonio enjoyed painting, poetry and music, and taught his son to paint at an early age. An antiques and furniture dealer, Antonio's interest in collecting provided fundamental inspiration for Arman's sculpture, particularly the accumulation pieces.
His father's side of the family, who were also well-versed in painting, encouraged Arman's artistic leanings, although his style diverged from the family's preference for traditional forms. After graduating with degrees in philosophy and mathematics, Arman enrolled in the École Nationale d'Art Decoratif in Nice, but soon dropped-out due to the conservative views of the school.
While studying judo, in 1947, Arman met Yves Klein, who became his life-long friend and also his collaborator in the Nouveau Réalisme movement. In addition to painting, Arman and Klein were deeply involved in the study and practice of Hinduism, Rosicrucianism, and Zen Buddhism for the next several years. And out of admiration of Vincent Van Gogh, who signed his name only with "Vincent," they decided to use only their first names.
Following pressure from his father to take a "real" job, Arman enrolled in the École de Louvre in 1949 and studied to be an auctioneer. During this time, he continued to paint, adopting a Surrealist style. By 1951, Arman had dropped out of the École de Louvre and started to teach judo at a school in Madrid with Klein.
By 1953, Arman had returned to Nice, and had focused once again on art after an injury prevented his martial arts training. He worked part-time as a salesman for his father's business, developing a serious interest in antiques and collectibles. In the same year, he married Eliane Radigue, a composer and pianist. By this time, Arman's painting had evolved into a more abstract style that was heavily influenced by the painters Serge Poliakoff and Nicolas de Staël.
After seeing works by Kurt Schwitters in Paris in 1954, Arman began to experiment with rubber stamps, producing works called cachets that were included in his first solo exhibition in 1956. The stamp-and-ink technique marked a rejection of the lyricism of his earlier painting since it relied on the repetition of identical, readymade motifs; and the occasional use of date stamps pointed to a new preoccupation with time. The cachets then led to the allures d'objets, which utilized solid objects such as chains, pins and nails that were dipped in ink and imprinted on paper. Some of the allures were created by crushing fragile objects, which inspired a series of coleres (rages). These pieces mostly consisted of musical instruments smashed and then mounted onto a flat surface. Chosen perhaps in tribute to his father's cultured tastes, the coleres were simultaneously a homage to Cubism, and a provocative attack on a well-loved aspect of popular culture.
Armand Pierre Fernandez adopted the name Arman following a printer's error in an exhibition catalogfor his 1958 group show at Galerie Iris Clert, in which the 'd' was dropped from his name.
Perhaps Arman's greatest notoriety came in the wake of his 1960 exhibition, Le Plein (Full-up). In response to Yves Klein's earlier exhibition at the same gallery, Le Vide (Empty), Arman filled the gallery completely with trash to the extent that it could only be viewed through the window from the street. Originally, in accordance with his love of chance, Arman had wanted to have sanitation workers dump art in any manner they pleased into the gallery, but the city refused to allow it.
Le Plein caught the attention of art critic Pierre Restany, who declared that Arman's work exhibited the "properly architectonic dimension" of a new realism. And in the same year Arman signed a manifesto that aligned him with Restany, Klein and the other artists formed a new movement named Nouveau Realisme, a French equivalent of Pop art in America. Shortly after this, Arman's growing reputation led to his inclusion in the important American survey, The Art of Assemblage, which was staged at the Museum of Modern Art. During the show, Arman stayed in New York for several months and became fascinated with American culture, later moving there with his family in 1963.
Late Years and Death
Arman's first solo museum exhibition opened in 1964 at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, followed by his first retrospective in Brussels two years later. In 1971, Arman married Corice Canton after divorcing his first wife. They settled in New York permanently and gained American citizenship, Arman legally changing his name to Armand Pierre Arman. In New York, Arman continued to produce variations on his earlier art, and he also worked on a larger scale, creating monumental sculptures such as Long Term Parking (1982) and Hope for Peace (1976). Known for his strong views on politics and human rights, Arman served as the President of the New York chapter of Amnesty International for five years. These humanitarian principles also led him to pull out of his first retrospective in his hometown, Nice, which had hosted a convention during which a Neo-Nazi made Anti-Semitic remarks (the exhibition was later rescheduled for 2002). Arman died from cancer in 2005 at the age of seventy-seven.
The Legacy of Arman
Arman's work is an important bridge between European and American trends in Pop art in the 1960s through the 1970s. His own collection of African Art has been an invaluable addition to institutions worldwide, including the Museum of African Art in New York, where his wife is a current board member. The Armand P. Arman Trust and Corice Canton Arman continue to uphold his legacy, supporting education and research on the artist's life and work. A comprehensive exhibition of Arman's work opened in February 2011 at the Museum Tinguely in Basel, in conjunction with the Centre Pompidou, underlining Arman's enduring relevance in the art world today.