18 August 2009


Hans "Jean" Arp, born in Strasbourg in 1886, was a sculptor, painter, poet, and founding member of Dada. He grew up in the Alsace-Lorraine territory, and was forced to change his name into a Francophone version of Hans upon the end of the Franco-Prussian War. Arp spent time in Paris, then moved to Switzerland to avoid the draft. He remained a radical activist through both writing and art. Arp's simplistic organic sculptural forms are very telling of their time period- a strong gravitation towards deeper meaning through direct, simple portrayals. Dada, a radical group of artists aiming to create turbulence in the art world, was most prominent in the early 1900s. Most of the work that was produced, including Arp's, was abstract and incredibly unconventional.

"Dada is the groundwork to abstract art and sound poetry, a starting point for performance art, a prelude to postmodernism, an influence on pop art, a celebration of antiart to be later embraced for anarcho-political uses in the 1960s and the movement that lay the foundation for Surrealism."

"Metamorphosis (Shell-Swan-Balance-You)" 1935, Private Collection

Arp was one of many during his time who dealt with automatism, which the Artbook describes as "experimental activities, such as nonsense poetry and spontaneous drawing." Another definition: "the performance of actions without conscious thought or decision." This style of producing art, especially circa 1920, is often considered in opposition to the meaning of "art" itself. Creation with intention falls at the centerfold of artistic purpose for many, yet for Dada "artistic purpose" was exactly what they wanted to get away from. The automatism style is highly prevalent in Arp's work. Just from the title- Metamorphosis (Shell-Swan-Balance-You)- a level of spontaneity and disorder can be detected. The piece itself seems to be in a state of transition, birthing a spherical form from within its angular infrastructure. The bronze is smoothed to a fine, sensuous finish. In my opinion, many interpretations can be drawn here, but overall the meaning seems to be irrelevant, almost arbitrary to the aesthetic achievement of the piece. A true Dada work.

I found a lot of Arp's painting, printmaking, and collage really fascinating. Creating art without purpose, drawing or producing while removing ego and filter, has a level of difficulty unmatched. Arp triumphed with original, groundbreaking pieces for his era. I really like the way MoMA chooses to describe the role he played for avant-garde art- "...it was through his investigation of biomorphism and of chance and accident that he proved especially influential on later 20th century art in liberating unconscious creative forces."

"Untitled (Squares Arranged According to the Laws of Chance)" 1916-17, MoMA

"Automatic Drawing" 1917-18, MoMA

"Enak's Tears (Terrestrial Forms)" 1917, MoMA

"Evocation of a Form, Human, Lunar, Spectral" 1950, Hirshhorn

Arp continued to create work until his death at the age of 80 in 1966. The latter portion of his life he devoted to writing and poetry, though produced some works, like a commissioned relief sculpture at Harvard in 1954. He is still very well recognized as a momentous creator of the 20th century.

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