May 15th, 2019
‘Art is a fruit that grows in man, like a fruit on a plant, or a child in its mother's womb’: these words he wrote in 1932 are emblematic of Hans (Jean) Arp’s artistic research during almost six decades.

Born in 1886 in Strasbourg (Alsace) from a German father and an Alsatian mother, learnt German in school (Strasbourg was under Germany then) but spoke French and Alsatian at home and with friends.

Studied in Strasbourg, Weimar and Paris before World War I. During the war he fled to Zurich not to be enlisted in the German army. Here he became one of the founders of the Dada movement.

The deep involvement with the Dadaists boosted Arp’s rejection against the self-centered rationality of Western art. He generously contributed with written texts, drawings, collages, book illustrations, textiles.

In 1914 he created his first wooden reliefs, two years later he added the element of color. Arp continued with his reliefs-collages, often cut in shapes suggesting natural forms, throughout his life.

While in Switzerland he met Sophia Taeuber, an abstract painter, scenographer, dancer and designer, with which he collaborated several times through the years. They married in 1922.

As Alsace was given back to France, Hans Arp obtained the French citizenship in 1926 and moved to Paris with his wife. They built a house in Clamart where they happily attended to their art production.

Besides continuing with his reliefs and collages, Arp experimented sculpture in the round, modelling and carving in stone and wood, seeking to follow ‘the secret ways of nature’.

Arp’s sculptures never had a pedestal, can be seen from many different angles lying on the ground or on a table. Some sculptures can be manipulated and changed by the viewer.

He began to call his sculptures ‘concretions’: ‘concretion is something that has grown, I wanted my work to find its humble, anonymous place in the woods, the mountains, in nature…’

During this period Arp allied himself to a certain point with Surrealism, although resisting their program, but sharing with them their faith in unbound creativity, spontaneity, irrationality.

In the 1930s Arp’s horizon widened even more, as he started to collaborate with abstract artists’ groups, such as Abstraction-Création, Cercle et Carré and the Constructivists.

Arp indeed worked with an incredible number of different artists and writers, from many different nationalities and belonging to different artistic cultures and sensibilities.

Two galleries outside the main exhibition, you will see a selection of works from Peggy Guggenheim collection of related authors, such as Theo Van Doesburg, Max Ernst, Jean Hélion, Kurt Schwitters.

During the 1930s Peggy Guggenheim started to collec
t contemporary art in Paris. The very first thing she bought was ‘Head & Shell’, a small bronze from Jean Arp made of two separate parts.

‘Arp took me to the foundry where it had been cast and I fell so in love with that I asked to have it in my hands. The instant I felt it I wanted to own it’ (Peggy Guggenheim, Out of this Century, 1979).

In 1940 Arp and Sophie moved to the South of France, hoping to leave for the USA, but they n
ever succeeded, and in 1942 they moved back to Switzerland. 

In 1945 while in Zurich Sophie died poisoned by carbon monoxide, and Arp suffered tremendously from this loss. He prepared a catalogue of her works and wrote about their life together.

After the end of the war he returned to Paris, continuing to live in Clamart, and slowly recovered. These last twenty years of his life were the most successful for his artistic career.

He started to produce bronze and marble sculptures, receiving commissions for monumental reliefs for the new UNESCO building in Paris and from Harvard University in Massachusetts.

Arp won the grand prize for sculpture at the Venice Biennale in 1954 and was a frequent guest of Peggy Guggenheim here at Palazzo Venier dei Leoni during the 1950s.

In 1959 he retired in Locarno, Switzerland, near Lake Maggiore, were he lived with his second wife, Marguerite Hagenbach, continuing to work until his death in 1966.

The exhibition, formerly in Dallas, Texas, at the Nasher Sculpture Centre, is curated by Catherine Craft and showcases more than 70 pieces (reliefs, sculptures, drawings, collages, textiles and illustrated books) from important American and European museums, foundations and private collections.

Key works: ‘Plant-Hammer’ (1917) the earliest documented Dada relief, ‘Three Disagreeable Objects on a face’ (1930), ‘Sculpture to be lost in the Forest’ (1932), ‘Marital Sculpture’ (1937) executed with Sophie Taeuber-Arp, ‘Maimed and Stateless’ (1937), ‘Torso with Buds’ (1961).

Arp’s imagery, with his experimental approach and fluid passages between abstraction and representation, inspired a wide range of artists such as Robert Motherwell, Alexander Calder, Ellsworth Kelly and Donald Judd.

The exhibition will be on at the Guggenheim Foundation in Venice from April 13th until September 2nd, 2019
from 10 am until 6 pm
Closed on Tuesdays

Visit the Peggy Guggenheim Foundation
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