1928 - 2005
While a student at École des Arts Décoratifs in Nice, Arman met fellow artist Yves Klein in 1946, and this meeting had a strong influence on his art. By 1949, he was studying at the École du Louvre in Paris, painting in a Post-Cubist style, first producing figurative works, and later painting in an abstract style. He gradually abandoned abstract art, which he felt was becoming formalist, and, in 1956, created his first Stamps. Using rubber stamps and ink pads, he would make imprints on the canvas, arranging them in an aesthetically pleasing manner at first, playing with the different colours of the ink, and then going on to cover the entire surface of the canvas with them. The ink pads were a means by which Arman could regain a connection with the object through its imprint. He then took this idea even farther by throwing various inked objects at the canvas, such as pebbles, eggshells, and needles. He called these works Gaits of Objects (Allures d’Objets). In 1958, he assumed his pseudonym, Arman, after a printing error on the cover of an exhibition catalogue turned ‘Armand’ into ‘Arman’, after which time he continued to solely identify with ‘Arman’.
Arman’s work is a gradual journey towards the object itself. Rather than representing, transcribing, or reproducing objects, Arman presents the simple reality of actual, accumulated objects. From piling up objects and assorted debris, he naturally progressed on to his Dustbins (Poubelles) series, which appeared between 1959 and 1960. The high point of this series was undoubtedly the Fullness (Le Plein) exhibition of 1960, when he filled the Iris Clert Gallery with all manner of refuse. This was in direct response to his friend Yves Klein’s 1958 exhibition, Emptiness (Le Vide), in which the same gallery was presented entirely empty. It was intended to incense the viewing public, but Arman still found ways to rationalise his art nevertheless.
On 14 April 1960 in Milan, at the instigation of Pierre Restany, Arman, Yves Klein, and approximately a dozen other artists published and signed the first New Realism (Nouveau-Réalisme) manifesto, which redefined the artistic language of the 1960s. This was the time of Arman’s Accumulations series, which involved encasing heaps of everyday objects in glass or polyester. In these works he elevates the most commonplace objects to the status of artworks. Parallels can be drawn with Marcel Duchamp and his Ready-Mades. However, unlike Duchamp’s works, which Pierre Restany defined as ‘words without consequence’, Arman’s Accumulations set out a vocabulary, a syntax, and even a kind of poetry. Nevertheless, it was certainly as a result of Marcel Duchamp’s work that Arman became interested in breaking up movement by cutting up his subjects.
In 1961, he began to slice objects and figures that he had cast in bronze. Although these Cuts (Coupes) give an impression of lightness and dynamism, there may be a contradiction between this kind of ‘finished’ product (a bronze sculpture), even though it is sliced up, and his Rages (Colères), which were created about the same time. For his Colères, he smashed up musical instruments and other objects and threw them onto the canvas, then either attached them to the canvas (or wood), or encased them in polyester. The same contradiction could exist between his bronze sculptures of Caesar and the welded metal objects of his first period. A sociological interest in the destination of objects certainly led Arman to produce his series of Destructions, through which he denounced the absurd, saturated consumer society in which objects lose their primary value. Taking the same idea farther, in 1963, he produced his Combustions series, burning violins, pianos, and armchairs, and exhibiting the remains in transparent Plexiglas structures. Between 1965 and 1967, he worked in collaboration with Renault, and took his art in a new direction by assembling mechanical parts and giving them a lyrical character. After 1970 he set his Coupes, Colères, and Accumulations in concrete.
In 1972, Arman obtained American citizenship and made New York his home. A travelling retrospective exhibition of his work then began in New York. In the 1980s, his work took on monumental, gigantic proportions; ships’ anchors, 30 guitars, or 60 cars would be piled up and set in concrete. Nevertheless, all these works are executed in the same spirit, with the same rich inventiveness, thereby giving his art real continuity. In the 1990s, however, this continuity became relative, when he no longer used scrap objects but took rare art objects from his own collections and arranged them in carefully built cases under the title of Accumulations of Collections. In 1995, he exhibited his series of Transculptures in Sète, in the south of France. He took classical artworks and transformed them by accumulating them, penetrating them, piling them up, or slicing them. The Venus de Milo, for example, was presented surrounded by a huge pile of welded boat propellers and renamed ‘Milo Cruise’, and an ancient statue of Heracles was cut up and reassembled beneath a heap of shower hoses and bath taps. This same somewhat provocative and challenging attitude was also behind the monumental sculpture inaugurated in August 1995 in the heart of Beirut.
The work of Arman can be defined by his actions. He accumulated, broke, cut, and burned. He took objects and altered their inherent nature, preserving some of their appearance, but effacing their utilitarian nature and modernity, or even their recognised artistic value. As Otto Hahn said: ‘Arman is in no way seeking to become, like Léger, a eulogist of modernity. On the contrary, he takes on the role of witness to a culture.’
1960, Avanguardia, Les Nouveaux Réalistes, Galleria Apollinaire, Milan, Italy
1961, The Art of Assemblage, Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY; Museum of Contemporary Arts, Dallas, TX; Museum of Art, San Francisco, CA
1961, 1977, Biennale, Paris, France
1964, Painting and Sculpture of a Decade: 1954–1964, Tate Gallery, London, England
1964, 1968, 1977, Documenta, Kassel, Germany
1966, 1968, 1976, Biennale, Venice, Italy
1967, Painting in France: 1900–1967, National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC; Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA; Art Institute of Chicago, IL; M.H. de Young Memorial Museum, San Francisco, CA
1976, The Golden Door: Artist-Immigrants of America 1876–1976, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC
1981, Paris 1937–1957: Création en France, Centre Georges-Pompidou, Paris, France
1984, Primitivism in Twentieth Century Art: Affinity of the Tribal and the Modern, Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY; Institute of Arts, Detroit, MI; Museum of Fine Arts, Dallas, TX
1987, Picasso and Arman, Galerie L’Orangeraie, Geneva, Switzerland
1989, Un, Deux, Trois… Sculptures, Fondation Cartier, Jouy-en-Josas, France
1999, Arman-César, Galerie Marianne et Pierre Nahon, Paris, France
2000, Autour d’Alain Jouffroy: Objecteurs/Artmakers, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Dole, France
2001, D’Après l’Antique, Musée du Louvre, Paris, France