'Navel, Moustache and Biomorphic Forms'
Jean (Hans) Arp
(September 16, 1886; France - June 7, 1966; Switzerland)
German-French sculptor, painter, poet. One of the founders of abstract sculpture and Dadaism. Arp also worked extensively in the field of literature.
Associated with Dada and Surrealism, Jean Arp is best-known for his biomorphic sculptures made out of plaster, stone, and bronze. As one of the most versatile creatives of the beginning of the 20th century, he also expressed himself in paintings, drawings, collages and poems.
The poetry of forms
Portfolio of seven lithographs "7 Arpaden", published as the fifth issue of Merz magazine. The title “Arpaden” is a made-up word meaning “Arp things”
In 1923 Arp published "7 Arpaden" with his friend Kurt Schwitters. This portfolio of prints contained simple pictograms of everyday objects, a set of personal symbols that became the foundation of Arp’s "langage-objet" (object-language). Arp made painted wood reliefs incorporating this visual vocabulary. Their titles emulated his nonsensical verse: plates, forks, moustaches, chairs, bow-ties, butterflies, tables and eggs were placed in humorous and absurd juxtapositions on an irregular-shaped background or in a frame.
From The Man Who Lost His Skeleton
novel by Jean Arp, Leonora Carrington, Marcel Duchamp, Paul Eluard, Max Ernst, Georges Hugnet, Henri Pastoureau, Gisèle Prassinos, et al.
Chapter Four: The Skeleton on Vacation
(By Jean Arp)
The skeleton was as overjoyed as a lunatic having his strait jacket removed. It was a true release for him to be able to stroll about without the burden of flesh. The mosquitoes no longer bit him. He no longer had to have his hair cut. He was no longer hungry, thirsty, cold, or hot. He was far from the lizard of love and its bourgeois, far from the milk of concubines, far from the lunar mucus. The tenor-mushrooms that grew on the meridians no longer preoccupied his mind. A German chemistry professor, who planned to convert him into delicious ersatz, dynamite, strawberry jam, sauerkraut with sausages... etc., lay in wait for him for a certain length of time. The skeleton easily managed to put him off the scent by dropping the bone of a young zeppelin, and the professor flung himself upon it, reciting chemical anthems and covering the bone with hot kisses that were ever so slightly incestuous. ... Read more
The skeleton's home had an ancient head and modern feet. The ceiling was the sky, the floor the earth. It was painted entirely in white and decorated with snowballs in which hearts were throbbing. It looked like a transparent monument that dreams of an electric teat, and with a gentle and invisible smile it gazed eyelessly into the inexhaustible supply of silence that surrounds our star. The skeleton didn't care for disaster, but in order to suggest that life also has certan perilous moments, he had placed a giant die in the center of his lovely apartment and from time to time he would sit on it like a true philosopher. Occasionally he vaguely performed some entrechats-six to the tune of Saint-Saën's La Danse Macabre. But he executed them with such grace, and such candor in the style of midnight dances in romantic and obsolete graveyards, that no one seeing him would have thought of anything unpleasant. He gazed in satisfaction at the Milky Way, that immense host of skeletons enveloping our planet. Twinkling, sparkling, shining with all those myriads of little skeletons who dance, leap, somersault, and do their duty. They welcome the dead of a thousand fields of honor, honor of hyenas, vipers, crocodiles, bats, lice, toads, spiders, tape worms, and scorpions. They give them their first advice and guide their first steps, for at their birth the dead are as wretched in their neglect as newborn babies. Our repugnant and emiment colleagues, colmiles, colyards, and colmeters, smelling like wild boars and with the encrusted noses of mummified oysters, turn, when they die, into skeletons of a terrifying beauty. Have you heard the dreadful sighing of the dead in the hecatombs? It's the terrible disenchantment of the newborn dead who had certainly hoped for and deserved eternal sleep, and who now see themselves cheated and caught in everlasting gears of pain and sorrow. The skeleton people were at a loss as to what to make of and do with our skeleton. Was he a professional skeleton or an amateur?
The skeleton wasn't the least bit concerned about that errant flesh, Mister Maple. Every morning he would get up pure as a Gillette blade. He embellished his bones with seasoning herbs, brushed his teeth with ancestor marrow, and did his nails with Fatma nail polish. Every afternoon at cocktail time he made his way to the corner bistro, where he regularly perused The Necromancer's Daily, the favorite tabloid of the beautiful corpse people. He would frequently enjoy a game of ivory towers and dandy. Once he pretended to be thirsty and ordered something to write with; he emptied the inkwell into his jaws down on the inside of his carcass: the ink spattered and splotched his lovely white bones. Another time he went into a toyshop and bought a supply of those droll Parisian items, imitation turds; the same evening he put some into a chamber pot, and when the butler awoke he couldn't get over it: to think that a skeleton, who never eats or drinks, would relieve nature just like everyone else.
Now one day the skeleton drew a few tiny hazelnuts which walked on darling little footsies across mountains that spat frogs through the mouth, the eyes, the ears, the nose, and other openings and holes. The skeleton was as frightened as a skeleton meeting a skeleton in broad daylight. He quickly grew a detective pumpkin on his head, and the pumpkin had the day side of a loaf of patchouli and the night side of the egg of Columbus; then he went off, halfway reassured, to see a fortuneteller.
From "Arp on Arp: poems, essays, memories"
stop acting like a skull
who weaves his web on the face of the air
while I lick my own body
the tongue is useless for speech
Hans Peter Wilhelm Arp, better known as Jean Arp in English, was born in Strasbourg, France, the son of a French mother and a German father, during the period following the Franco-Prussian War when the area was known as Alsace-Lorraine (Elsass-Lothringen in German) after France had ceded it to Germany in 1871. Following the return of Alsace to France at the end of World War I, French law determined that his name become "Jean". Arp would continue referring to himself as "Hans" when he spoke German.
In 1904, after leaving the École des Arts et Métiers in Straßburg, he went to Paris where he published his poetry for the first time. From 1905 to 1907, Arp studied at the Kunstschule in Weimar, Germany, and in 1908 went back to Paris, where he attended the Académie Julian. Arp was a founder-member of the Moderne Bund in Lucerne, participating in their exhibitions from 1911 to 1913.
In 1912, he went to Munich, called on Wassily Kandinsky, the influential Russian painter and art theorist, was encouraged by him in his researches and exhibited with the Der Blaue Reiter group. Later that year, he took part in a major exhibition in Zürich, along with Henri Matisse, Robert Delaunay and Kandinsky. In Berlin in 1913, he was taken up by Herwarth Walden, the dealer and magazine editor who was at that time one of the most powerful figures in the European avant-garde.
In 1915, he moved to Switzerland to take advantage of Swiss neutrality. Arp later told the story of how, when he was notified to report to the German consulate in Zurich, he pretended to be mentally ill in order to avoid being drafted into the German Army: after crossing himself whenever he saw a portrait of Paul von Hindenburg, Arp was given paperwork on which he was told to write his date of birth on the first blank line. Accordingly, he wrote "16/9/87"; he then wrote "16/9/87" on every other line as well, then drew one final line beneath them and, "without worrying too much about accuracy", calculated their sum. Hans Richter, describing this story, noted that "they [the German authorities] believed him."
In 1916, Hugo Ball opened the Cabaret Voltaire, which was to become the center of Dada activities in Zurich for a group that included Arp, Marcel Janco, Tristan Tzara, and others. In 1920, as Hans Arp, along with Max Ernst and the social activist Alfred Grünwald, he set up the Cologne Dada group. However, in 1925, his work also appeared in the first exhibition of the surrealist group at the Galérie Pierre in Paris.
In 1926, Arp moved to the Paris suburb of Meudon. In 1931, he broke with the Surrealist movement to found Abstraction-Création, working with the Paris-based group Abstraction-Création and the periodical, Transition. Beginning in the 1930s, the artist expanded his efforts from collage and bas-relief to include bronze and stone sculptures. He produced several small works made of multiple elements that the viewer could pick up, separate, and rearrange into new configurations.
Arp visited New York City in 1949 for a solo exhibition at the Buchholz Gallery. In 1950, he was invited to execute a relief for the Harvard University Graduate Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts and would also be commissioned to do a mural at the UNESCO building in Paris. Arthur and Madeleine Lewja, of Galerie Chalette, who had known Arp in Europe, became his gallery representatives in New York in the late 1950s, and were instrumental in establishing his reputation on the American side of the Atlantic
In 1958, a retrospective of Arp's work was held at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, followed by an exhibition at the Musée National d'Art Moderne, Paris, France, in 1962. In 1972, the Metropolitan Museum of Art showcased Jean Arp's work from the Lejwa's collection and a few works lent by Arp's widow, Marguerite Arp. The exhibition was expanded and traveled as "Arp 1877-1966," first exhibited at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and then shown in seven museums in the United States and six in Australia. Organized by the Minneapolis Institute of Arts and the Wurttembergischer Kunstverein of Stuttgart, a 150-piece exhibition titled "The Universe of Jean Arp" concluded an international six-city tour at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in 1986. The Musée d'art moderne et contemporain of Strasbourg houses many of his paintings and sculptures.
Arp's career was distinguished with many awards including the Grand Prize for sculpture at the 1954 Venice Biennale, a sculpture prizes at the 1964 Pittsburgh International, the 1963 Grand Prix National des Arts, the 1964 Carnegie Prize, the 1965 Goethe Prize from the University of Hamburg, and then the Order of Merit with a Star of the German Republic.
Personal life and death
Arp and his first wife, the artist Sophie Taeuber-Arp, became French nationals in 1926. In the 1930s, they bought a piece of land in Clamart and built a house at the edge of a forest. Influenced by the Bauhaus, Le Corbusier and Charlotte Perriand, Taeuber designed it.She died in Zürich in 1943. After living in Zürich, Arp was to make Meudon his primary residence again in 1946. Arp married the collector Marguerite Hagenbach (1902–1994), his long-time companion, in 1959.He died in 1966, in Basel, Switzerland.
Jean Arp at work