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Arman is most associated with the Nouveau Realiste (New Realist) movement that emerged in 1960, and which represented France’s response to the trend of Pop art that was sweeping Europe and the United States. Arman had first emerged as a lyrical abstract painter, but he soon rejected the style and began making sculpture inspired by the concept of the readymade. Arman’s most notable work was preoccupied with the consequences of mass production: his Accumulations often reflected on the identical character of modern objects; his Poubelles, or “trash cans,” considered the waste that results when these objects are discarded; and his Coleres, or “rages,” expressed an almost irrational rage at objects that, in modern times, threatened to dominate everyday life. At his best, Arman delivered a powerful and chilling rejection of modernization and the culture of mass consumption. Later, he developed an aesthetic based on the act of destruction, his pieces commemorating the obliteration objects in various ways.
Courtesy of Galerie Omagh
January 24, 2003
By: Ken Johnson
Now 74, Armand Fernandez -- professionally known as Arman -- carved out a secure art historical niche for himself in the 50's and 60's with an approach to assemblage that emphasized raw accumulation. For a famous exhibition in 1960 he filled an entire gallery, floor to ceiling, with garbage. An example in this vein in the present retrospective survey is a plexiglass box three-quarters full of refuse from the studio of Robert Rauschenberg, liquor bottles and crumpled cardboard boxes, mostly.
Arman is also known for accumulations of similar objects -- a box from 1961, for example, haphazardly filled with corkscrews. The most satisfying works in this show are the more orderly constructions, like a wall-size steel box from 1991 divided into a grid of cubbyholes, each occupied by a glowing desk lamp with a beautiful green glass shade. An optically captivating work from 1968 consists of thousands of brass-tipped orange spark plug wires, in rows cast in plastic. There is a touching elegiac air, too, about a single charred violin embalmed in a block of cast plastic from 1966.
Arman has been capable of less persuasive work. Recent painting-sculpture hybrids consisting of musical instruments sliced up and organized into Cubist compositions, for example, verge on kitsch. So does a 1995 bronze copy of a Greek discus thrower, with large machine gears inserted between its sliced up parts. But his best work still passes as a mordant celebration of 20th-century forms of order and chaos. KEN JOHNSON
Everson Museum of Art, Syracuse, New York
Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, California
Harvard Art Museum, Cambridge, Massachusetts
Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C.
Laumeier Sculpture Park, St. Louis, Missouri
Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum, St. Louis, Missouri
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Saint Louis Art Museum, St. Louis, Missouri
Ulrich Museum of Art, Wichita, Kansas
Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, Minnesota