First Major Retrospective of the Artist Arman Presented by Museum Tinguely


BASEL — From February 16 to May 15, 2011, Museum Tinguely is showing a comprehensive survey of the work of the artist Arman (1928–2005). The exhibition is a cooperative project with Centre Pompidou in Paris, where it was presented last autumn to resounding acclaim, attracting a large number of visitors. With some 80 works contributed by leading museums and private collections, as well as a selection of films in large-scale projection, video recordings and documents, the second installment of the show in Basel features seven thematically arranged galleries providing a unique overview of the artist’s complete oeuvre from the early 1950s to his late work in the 1990s. Museum Tinguely is placing a special focus on Arman’s artistic pursuits in the 1960s and 70s. Five years after the artist’s death, this is the first major retrospective of his work ever to be held at a Swiss museum. Following projects on Yves Klein (1999), Daniel Spoerri (2001) and Niki de Saint Phalle (2003), Museum Tinguely is now proud to present the oeuvre of yet another member of the Nouveaux Réalistes.

“I maintain that the expression of rubbish, of objects, possesses an immediate intrinsic value, without the will of aesthetic compositions obliterating them and likening them to the colors on a palette; furthermore, I introduce the meaning of the global gesture unremittingly and remorselessly.” — ARMAN, 1960

In the thematically organized show, important pieces have been selected to represent Arman’s major work groups, beginning with the Cachets and Allures d’Objets, abstract stamp and object prints on paper and canvas from the latter half of the 1950s. At the center of the show are Arman’s provocative artistic reactions to the throwaway society, his famous Poubelles and Accumulations, in which he showcases discarded everyday goods and trash in glass and perspex boxes as objets d’art. Also on view are key works from the Coupes and Colères series, as well as from the Combustions and Inclusions, demonstrating the artist’s varied forms of engagement beginning in the 1960s with the theme of destruction, deconstruction and transformation of the accoutrements of our daily lives. Completing the exhibition are a selection of Accumulations Renault, assemblages of factory-new auto parts, some of them monumental, which were commissioned in the late 1960s by Renault, and finally, examples of Arman’s paintings and resin casts using paint tubes, in which he turned his attention from the late 1960s to the end of the 1990s to the medium of abstract painting, or Art Informel.

Today, Arman’s works from the 1960s and ’70s seem startlingly topical; in particular his Accumulations, his Colères, involving the destruction of an object, and above all the Poubelles can be read as archaeological traces left behind by consumer society – astonishingly presaging how the throwaway lifestyle and the destruction of the planet would later become the most pressing concerns of our day.

Arman and Nouveau Réalisme

As a founding member of the Nouveaux Réalistes, Arman belonged to one of the most important artist groups of the postwar era, whose influence still persists today. The artists in Tinguely and Arman’s generation found themselves at a turning point, with modernist abstraction in painting having been declared dead. The Nouveau Réalisme manifesto (1960) took issue with Art Informel and Abstract Expressionism, art trends that dominated the Parisian art scene at the time. Pierre Restany noted in his text: “Easel painting has (…) served its term. Still sublime at times, it is approaching the end of a long monopoly.” Nouveau Réalisme proposed instead “the exciting adventure of the real seen for what it is.” This adventure, according to Restany, is only open to those who go about the world with a sociologically trained gaze, hoping that chance will rush in to assist, “whether it is the posting or the tearing down of a sign, the physical appearance of an object, the rubbish from a house or living room, the unleashing of mechanical affectivity, or the expanding of sensitivity beyond the limits of perception.”

Arman himself referred in 1960 to the object and the gesture as his primary media: “I maintain that the expression of rubbish, of objects, possesses an immediate intrinsic value, without the will of aesthetic compositions obliterating them and likening them to the colors on a palette; furthermore, I introduce the meaning of the global gesture unremittingly and remorselessly.”

Arman’s work in the 1950s

In Arman’s early work executed in the latter half of the 1950s (to which scant attention has been paid until now) the main artistic methods are already apparent that will set the tone for his entire career: the repetitive artistic gesture and the consistent use of everyday objects.

Interestingly enough, Arman came to the object by way of painting and concrete music, which he delved into intensely at the time. He was also influenced by the work of artists active in the 1920s such as Kurt Schwitters, Hendrik Nicolaas Werkman and Marcel Duchamp. In the mid-1950s he was close to Yves Klein, likewise from Nice and the inventor of International Klein Blue. During this period Arman conceived works on paper and canvas – the Cachets and Allures d’objets. In his Cachets he parts ways with the painting style of the École de Paris and uses rubber stamps to print all-over patterns on canvas in a kind of Écriture automatique. The Allures d’objets series, whose name comes from the music of Pierre Schaeffer, consists of abstract pictorial compositions formed by the accidental imprints and traces left behind by various objects dipped in paint and hurled at the canvas. Arman’s Cachets and Allures d’objets can be regarded as provocative reactions to the Informel painting and Abstract Expressionism that were all-pervasive at the time.

Image: A person walking in front of the art work “Chopin’s Waterloo” (1962) by French-born US artist Arman is seen at the exhibition “Arman” in the Museum Tinguely in Basel, Switzerland. The exhibition “Arman” runs from 16 February until 15 May 2011. (EPA/GEORGIOS KEFALAS)