Arman explores reality. He strives to transform and sublimate artefacts into works of art. Everyday objects become poetry for the eye. Forks, women’s shoes, credit cards, bottle caps and revolvers. Cast, welded together or enclosed in plexiglass “vitrines”, these things are metamorphosed into a form of art that he calls “accumulations”.
Starting in the late 1950s, Arman immersed himself whole-heartedly in these inventories of reality until he passed away in 2005. He collected and amalgamated piles of junk, pens, paint tubes, rubber stamps and much else. These accumulations became his hallmark, just as much as the sliced, burnt and sawn objects of his “tantrums”, ranging from violins and Roman gods to veteran motorbikes and telephones. Arman’s sculptures lent new dimensions to objects that already were perfect as they were.
Armand Pierre Fernandez was born in Nice in November 1928. He developed his passion for artefacts in his father’s antique shop. At the age of 18, he studied at the Nice Academy of Art, but left three years later in protest against the conservative leadership. Now he set out on his own path, began to paint in earnest and, under the influence of Pollock, Schwitters and Duchamp, evolved his own idiosyncratic language of form and ideas.
Initially, in the late 1950s, he painted abstract motifs. Then he turned his talents to sculpture, which in turn led to his breakthrough. After a catalogue entry at the legendary Galerie Iris Clert accidentally omitted the final ‘d’ from the artist’s name, he resolved that from that time on, he would sign his works simply ‘Arman’.
When Yves Klein met Arman at a judo course in the autumn of 1949, there immediately arose a close affinity between the two men, who subsequently divided the world between them. Yves assumed responsibility for the spiritual world, Arman for the material. In 1960 they joined with César, Pierre Restany, Niki de Saint Phalle, Jean Tinguely and Rotella, among others, to form the Nouveaux Réalistes.
This was also the year when Arman put together his much noticed show titled Plein (“Full up”), a neo•realist exhibition at Galerie Iris Clert. The installation consisted of a monumental heap of junk – trash piled from floor to ceiling in a manner reminiscent of Raymond Hains’ collage Slum Sculptures.
Arman wrote, “The bow on the strings releases an explosion of sounds,” in the book Trio à cordes published by GKM Siwert Bergström nearly twenty years ago. The words are his own. The book is a tender homage to music and expresses the artist’s predilection for the tones of violin, cello and double bass. Lyrically orchestrated poems are conflated with ingenious detail images: multi-coloured violins and a delicately painted cello are but two of the motifs drawn against the straight lines of the score.
The first steps towards collaboration with GKM Siwert Bergström came with an exhibition in Malmö, when Arman staged a “happening” in Malmö Concert Hall. This was followed by several exhibitions in Malmö, at the Stockholm Art Fair, at FIAC in Paris and at the Glyptoteket in Copenhagen. Contacts with GKM subsequently led to an exhibition of Arman’s works at the Lund Konsthall gallery with the support of Marianne Nanne-Bråhammar. This also included a happening.
Arman passed away in October 2005 at the age of 76. For the last 30 years of his life he maintained two homes and studios, in New York and in Vence, in the south of France.
His works featured in a total of almost 500 separate exhibitions during his lifetime. In addition to being well represented in museums around the world, he also created several works of art for public spaces, ranging from welded shopping carts, to clocks, double basses and cars stacked on top of each other. Among his best known are Hope for Peace in Beirut, À la République in the Elysée Palace in Paris, L’heure de tous and Consigne de vie outside Saint Lazare railway station in Paris.
There is something animated in Arman’s work – a provocation, a challenge, an inner power in the things in which his art resides – that links the past to our own age, and casts the soul and the body as one.
Johan Persson