jean arp


Arp used to say that the violin could tame the clouds, have them bask from the happiness on earth. Than, they would let themselves be petrified. Arp tossed his fishnets very high and very far, from the navel to the star, from the moustache to the clouds, from the smile to the water drop which trembles on a cob web, from the torrent pebble to the rainbow. He captured the analogies. He thus broke our categories, our organizations. He was thus revealing the relations between the mineral, the animal, the vegetable. He realized impossible matings where a bacteria starting having a nose and the universe in its entirety, new possibilities. We were finally the threads of the stars, the brothers of wheat, of granite, of water vapour. The Big-Bang had not ended.


Pierre Descargues - 1992




Born in Strasbourg in 1886, of an Alsacien mother

and a German father, Jean (Hans)  Arp spends his first twenty years of his life between Strasbourg and Weggis,

next to Lucerne, interrupted by stays in Paris,

Weimar and Berlin.

He maintains very early intense contacts with artists

which seek to dissociate themselves from traditionnal forms of art.



He set up with his friend Walter Helbig,

"Der Moderne Bund". In 1912, he meets Kandinsky.

"In his studio, speech, form and colour were blending

and transforming themselves into fabulous, unheard

of,  never before seen worlds". Arp collaborates

with the « Blaue Reiter » yearbook and exhibits together with the Delaunay couple, Le Fauconnier, Franz Marc

and Paul Klee.

Arp publishes his first poems, puts drawings, collages,

on exhibit, illustrates publications. Expressing himself

in German as in French, he plays with words as much

as with shapes, in an interaction which he won’t cease

to pursue throughout all his life.





Jean (Hans) Arp and his brother François (Wilhem) move to Paris to run away from German mobilization.

In 1915, Arp takes refuge in Zurich where he meets Sophie Taeuber.

Beside Hugo Ball, Richard Huelsenbeck, Tristan Tzara, Marcel Janco, Hans Richter, he participates in 1916

in the foundation of the “Cabaret Voltaire”. That’s where the Dada movement will be born. Conferences, recitals, spontaneous music and later, simultaneous poems celebrate nonsense. The artists express their revolt against the bourgeois order, the war massacres

and the academic aesthetic. Art is used as an instrument of subversion to transform life, to fight men’s foolishness and to reconcile them with the natural order. Arp starts working on his reliefs.



Arp draws his inspiration from the laws of chance, banishing the will in the composing process. He is guided by two imperatives: art must be concrete and follow nature’s spontaneous and peaceful processes as subject. The union of both will give birth to the « Earthly shapes », reliefs, drawings, etchings, echoing a nature with meaning, the logic of which is not man’s logic and which becomes the guiding principle of all his work.


After the first world war, the dadaist impulse spreads throughout Europe. In the twenties, Arp takes part

in the movement, in Germany, where dadaists

(Hausmann, Schwitters et Tzara) and constructivists

(Van Doesburg, El Lissitzky, Moholy-Nagy) meet, in Paris where he meets up Tzara and Picabia and links up

with literary spheres which gravitate around André Breton, Philippe Soupault, Georges Ribemont-Dessaignes

and Louis Aragon.



On October 20th, he marries Sophie Taeuber,

in the Tessin canton.



Arp settles down in Paris in 1925, while the first surrealist exhibition was taking place in Pierre Loeb’s gallery,

after having tried in vain to get naturalized in Switzerland, where he is considered to be unwelcome given his Dada actions. He obtains the French nationality in 1926,

at the same time as his wife Sophie Taeuber

and his brother François.


It’s in the twenties that Jean Arp invents his "arpadian encyclopedia”. His organic shapes turn to objects :

the clock, the navel, the moustaches, the hat, the tie,

the bottle, the sismic plant, the eagle, and so many more. Combining several images within an identical « relief »,

he uses his famous humour to upset nature’s usual hierarchy, to make fun of human claims and to establish

a parity between man and the inanimate object.



His first personal exhibition is being organized

at the Galerie Surréaliste, the catalogue is prefaced

by André Breton. His affinities with André Breton’s group express themselves in the "reliefs" and in the poetry

which the surrealists, in particular Marcel Jean, who will become one of his best friends, prompt him to make use

of to explore his plastic work. Arp, loyal to Dada, keeps however his guard up, notably vis-à-vis its rejection

of abstract art, its political stands or its internal quarrels.



The Arp couple can settle down in Meudon-Clamart,

in a studio house built according to plans by Sophie, thanks to the fees received for the Aubette workings in Strasbourg, which they carry out with Theo van Doesburg.


The same year, Arp joined, together with Sophie Taeuber, the "Cercle et Carré", a movement favouring pure abstraction, founded by Michel Seuphor and Joaquín Torres García. In 1931, he joins "Abstraction Creation", founded by van Doesburg, a movement to which Herbin, Kupka, Calder, Mondrian, Schwitters, Hélion,

Sonia and Robert Delaunay participate.



The early stages of the thirties is a period of intense creative activity. Arp addresses sculpture in the round, transposing his reliefs in three dimensions,

in a condensation, petrification process (“Human concretions"). He invents collages made from ripped up paper, stemming from his own paper works,

the "Constellations" or "Configurations", compositions

just like nature which constellates and re-constellates permanently.


Arp is more and more approached for exhibitions

(Jeanne Bucher and Goemans galleries in Paris, galleries in Brussels, Zurich, Berne, New-York, San Francisco). Critics apply themselves to make known his work, notably Carola Giedon-Welker in Zurich. Several collectors

in Switzerland and in the United States buy regularly works from him, as well as from Sophie Taeuber. Among them appears Marguerite Hagenbach whom he meets in 1932.


Driven by war, Arp and Sophie Taeuber find themselves

in Grasse in Magnelli’s home, where Sonia Delaunay meets up with them – it’s the timeperiod

where the four artists, rediscovering the dada practices, create jointly drawings and gouache paintings. Not having been able to obtain visas to enter the United-States,

Jean Arp and Sophie Taeuber take refuge in Switzerland, in Max Bill’s home, where Sophie will die accidentally

in January 1943.



After the war, Arp comes back to Clamart-Meudon,

sharing his time between writing, the reliefs, the drawings, the collages, sculpture. He enjoys now the support

of several galleries (Denise René, Pierre & Edouard Loeb and Maeght in Paris, Susie Feigel in Basel, Kurt Valentin, Sidney Janis, Arthur and Madeleine Lejwa of the Chalette gallery in New-York, Max Stern in Montreal).



During this period, Arp travels a lot. He plans at a time

to take up residence in New-York, considering that

not enough interest is shown for his work in France.

At the request of Walter Gropius, he creates

a monumental relief for the Harvard Graduate Center refectory.



Carlos Villanueva, architect the new Caracas University, asks him for his first monumental bronze sculpture, the "Berger des Nuages" ("Shepherd of Clouds").



The sculpture Grand prix of the Venice Bienniale,

which he won this year, gave him recognition

and the affluence which he had lacked until then. He can call on assistants and meet an increasingly plentiful demand for the bronze editions of his works in plaster, which, for lack of money, he had not been able to create until then. He invents the “Thresholds", going back

to his first sculptures of the twenties, he diversifies

the materials used, produces enlargments, notably

on the occasion of monumental works in France,

in Switzerland, in the United-States, in Germany,

in the Netherlands.



The Museum of Modern Art in New York devotes to

him a personal exhibition.  Arp travels for the first time

to Mexico.



On May 14th, he marries Marguerite Hagenbach, a Swiss collector he met in 1932, which shares his life since

the end of the war. Arp takes up residence in Basel

where Marguerite has an appartement, Clamart becoming their second home. Mrs Arp-Hagenbach buys moreover,

in Solduno, near Locarno in the Tessin canton, a property (today, home of the Fondazione Marguerite Arp) where

the couple will be staying more and more frequently.



The Musée National d'Art Moderne in Paris organizes

him a retrospective, which will travel to Basel, Stockholm, Copenhaguen and London.

Over these years, a greater part of his work

is dedicated to monumental enlargements.



Arp dies in Basel on June 7th, leaving in the Clamart-Meudon studios an extensive suit  of works. Beforehand, he had the time, with the help of  Marcel Jean, to gather a large part of his writings in French, from 1920 to 1965. They were published after his death, in 1966, by the editor Gallimard.

El Lissitzky, portrait of Jean Arp, 1924

dada is in favour of the absence of meaning,

which doesn’t mean being deprived of meaning.

dada is without meaning, as nature.

dada is in favour of nature and against "art".

dada is direct, as nature,

and seeks to give to each object its essential place.

dada is in favour of the infinite meaning

and the defined means.

Jean Arp, 1927, in Jours Effeuillés


We don’t want to copy nature.

We don’t want to duplicate, we want to produce.

We want to produce like a plant which produces

a fruit and not reproduce.

We want to produce directly

and not through outside intervention.

As there is not the slightest trace of abstraction

in that art, we name it: concrete art.

Jean Arp, 1944, in Jours Effeuillés


I ment to find a different order, an other value of man within nature. He was not to be any longer

the measure of all things, nor relate everything

to his scale, but on the contrary, all things and man

had to be like nature, without scale.

I wanted to create new appearances, extract

new shapes from man.

Jean Arp, 1948, in Jours Effeuillés


Man calls abstract what is concrete.

This is not surprising, because he usually confuses

the front and the back while using his nose, mouth

and ears, that is to say five of his nine openings.

I understand that we call a cubist painting abstract, because parts have been subtracted from the object

that served as the model for that painting. But I find

that a painting or a sculpture that have not had

an object for model, are just as concrete and sensual

as a sheet or a stone.

Jean Arp, 1948, in Jours Effeuillés


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