Arp, Jean

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(Also known as Hans Arp; 1886–1966), Alsace-born artist and poet.

Moving easily between the French and German languages, Jean Arp developed a cosmopolitan outlook from an early age through his contacts with the European avant-garde. A member of the expressionist generation, he was one of the founders of the Dada movement in Zurich and contributed to surrealism in the interwar years. Arp is considered a pioneer of abstract art and poetry who explored automatic composition through the idea of chance. Born out of an impersonal creative act, abstract art expressed spiritual truths by means of form alone and was thus in search of the absolute and the transcendent.

As a teenager Arp had been part of a Strasbourg avant-garde group, led by the writer RenéSchickele, that sought to rejuvenate Alsatian culture through international modernist styles. Having attended art schools in Weimar and Paris, Arp moved to Switzerland in 1909 to become a founder-member of the Moderne Bund in Lucerne. Largely drawing on the human figure, his paintings and woodcuts of this period are executed in a swift style, thick colors and black silhouettes giving them an expressive quality. Arp exhibited with the Blaue Reiter (Blue Rider) group in Munich and contributed to Wassily Kandinsky and Franz Marc's Blaue Reiter almanac (1913), sharing their interest in primitivism and Romanticism. His view that modern art should reject naturalism and express higher truths by means of form, line, and color alone links him with many expressionists. Like the Blaue Reiter, Arp saw abstract art as holding the key to the spiritual awakening and renewal of humankind. At the same time, influenced also by cubism and futurism, he contributed to the expressionist periodical Der Sturm and began to create collages on paper and fabric, some of which he exhibited in Zurich in late 1915. It was at this exhibition that he met the Swiss artist and dancer Sophie Taeuber (1889–1943), who was to become his lifelong partner. Inspired by Taeuber's abstract pictures, he began collaborating with her on collages using cutout squares to create vertical-horizontal compositions modulated only by the nonsymmetrical use of dark colors.

From Dada's beginnings in Zurich in early 1916, Arp became its principal visual artist, producing collages, woodcuts, paintings, lithographs and three-dimensional reliefs. He also participated in performances and contributed artwork and texts to publications. For Arp, Dada was not just "against art" but "for nature and life," suggesting that Dada's nihilistic anti-art stance be transformed into an ethics of creativity.

Arp's typical style emerged during the Dada years. Resolutely abstract, his art continued to be characterized by simple geometrical forms, as in his collage Squares Arranged According to the Law of Chance (1917), where Arp dropped pieces of paper onto a mount and fixed them where they landed. For Arp, the law of chance was a creative principle, inscrutable to humans and only to be experienced by completely surrendering to the unconscious. Chance was also closely linked to nature. Hence at the other pole of Arp's creativity was biomorphic abstraction, exemplified by his painted wood reliefs. These incorporate materials and shapes from nature, while their infinitely variable appearance suggests constant metamorphosis.

From the Dada years onward, Arp wrote poetry attempting to emulate the effects of abstraction in language. His poems, too, follow the "law of chance," integrating in dreamlike fashion contrary styles and meanings. Like his art, Arp's abstract poetry represents a radical break with symbolic language to explore prerational expressiveness.

From 1918, Arp collaborated with other Dada artists such as Max Ernst, Kurt Schwitters, and Raoul Hausmann, as well as forging important links with German-based constructivists such as Lazlo Moholy-Nagy and El Lissitzky. Through Ernst, Arp was introduced to the circle around André Breton, who in 1924 launched the surrealist movement. Arp exhibited and published with the surrealists, but this allegiance did not alter his style or his outlook. While continuing to work in ink, paper, and wood, Arp also explored new materials such as plaster and stone. Moving on from his Dada biomorphism, he produced distinctive sculptures utilizing more solid curvilinear shapes. Arp's art and poetry came to be seen as an example of surrealist "automatism," although his radical submission to chance had little to do with the psychoanalytic framing of automatism propagated by the surrealists.

Throughout this period, Arp was in contact with artists and groups that preferred geometric abstraction, such as Cercle et Carré (Circle and Square) in Paris, formed around his friend Michel Seuphor. In 1928 Arp, Taeuber, and the Dutch artist Theo van Doesburg collaborated in creating a modernist interior design for the Strasbourg Café de l'Aubette. From the early 1930s onward, Arp produced numerous sculptures he called Concretions that suggest a return to the human figure while also incorporating organic forms and resisting facile naturalism.

See alsoAvant-Garde; Dada; Modernism; Painting, Avant-Garde.


Primary Sources

Arp, Jean. On My Way. New York, 1948.

——. Arp on Arp. Translated by Joachim Neugroschel. New York, 1972.

——. Collected French Writings. Translated by Joachim Neugroschel. London, 1974.

——. Arp: Line and Form. Essay by Walburga Krupp. New York, 2000. Exhibition catalog.

Arp, Hans, and El Lissitzky. Die Kunstismen. Les Ismes d'Art. The Isms of Art. New York, 1925. Reprint, Baden, 1990.

Secondary Sources

Andreotti, Margherita. The Early Sculpture of Jean Arp. Ann Arbor, Mich., 1989.

Fauchereau, Serge. Arp. New York, 1988.

Giedion-Welcker, Carola. Jean Arp. Translated by Norbert Guterman. New York, 1957.

Hancock, Jane, and Stefanie Poley, curators. Arp, 1886–1966. Translated by John Gabriel et al. Cambridge, U.K., 1987. Exhibition catalog.

Last, Rex W. Hans Arp: The Poet of Dadaism. London, 1968.

Read, Herbert. The Art of Jean Arp. New York, 1968.

Soby, John Thrall, ed. Arp. New York, 1958. Exhibition catalog.

Andreas Kramer

Jean Arp

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Jean Arp

The French sculptor and painter Jean Arp (1887-1966) was a pioneer of abstract art. His wooden reliefs and sculpture in the round are biomorphic in form and poetically allusive.

Jean Arp was born in Strasbourg. He studied at the Academy in Weimar in 1905-1907 and at the Académie Julian in Paris in 1908. He came to disapprove of formal instruction and moved to Weggis, Switzerland, where he lived and worked in isolation. In 1912, after meeting Wassily Kandinsky in Munich, Arp exhibited with the Blue Rider group, and in 1913 he exhibited in the first Autumn Salon in Berlin. The following year he met Pablo Picasso, Robert Delaunay, under whose influence he began to work in a cubist vein, Amedeo Modigliani, and Max Ernst. In 1915 Arp settled in Zurich, where he met the painter Sophie Taeuber, whom he married in 1921.

Arp was one of the founders of the Dada group in 1916, which held its tumultuous meetings at the Cabaret Voltaire in Zurich. The Dadaists, reacting to the general disillusionment brought on by World War I, held up non-sense as the chief esthetic value to be realized in art and literature. Arp, now a committed Dadaist, abandoned the cubist rigors of the previous 2 years for an art that was whimsical in spirit and biomorphic in form. At this time he constructed painted wooden reliefs, whose curved shapes vaguely call to mind navels, clouds, and lakes. Arp's Dadaist art represented the fanciful and poetic, rather than the nihilistic and morbid, side of the movement, and he gave his works humorous titles. Among his Dadaist collages was a series in which bits of colored paper were pasted on cardboard; these he titled Collage with Squares Arranged According to the Laws of Chance (ca. 1917). But the bits of paper seem to have been placed with a concern for the effectiveness of the design. In 1919 Arp collaborated with Ernst and others to found the Cologne Dada group.

Arp settled in Paris in 1922, where he joined the surrealist movement. He participated in the first surrealist group exhibition held in Paris in 1925 and was officially a surrealist until 1930. In 1931-1932, as a member of the Abstraction-Création group, he made pictures out of bits of twine and torn paper and executed his first sculpture in the round of stone and wood.

His sculpture in the round, like the wooden reliefs, is curving and vaguely suggests the world of nature, such as hills, clouds, or part of a torso, rather than the world of machines. Arp always brought his material, the stone or bronze, to a high degree of finish. He described his sculpture as "concretions." "Concretion," he wrote, "designates solidification, the mass of the stone, the plant, the animal, the man. Concretion is something that has grown." Unlike Constantin Brancusi's sculpture, to which it is superficially similar, Arp's sculpture seems to be expansive rather than distilled or concentrated. Works such as the bronze Shell and Head (1933) and marble Star (1939-1960) seem to turn out to the world rather than turn in upon themselves.

Arp visited the United States in 1949 and 1950. He died in Basel, Switzerland.

Further Reading

Probably the best overall treatment of Arp in English is James Thrall Soby, ed., Jean Arp (1958), with equal attention given to the Dadaist wooden reliefs and the sculpture in the round. It contains essays by the Dadaist Richard Hülsenbeck, Robert Melville, and Carola Giedion-Welcker, as well as an essay by Arp. Two recent book-length treatments of Arp are Sir Herbert E. Read, The Art of Jean Arp (1968), and Edward Trier, Jean Arp, Sculpture: His Last Ten Years (1968). Hans Arp, On My Way: Poetry and Essays, 1912-1947 (1948), is a collection of remarkably sensitive poems. Good background material is in A. H. Barr, Jr., ed., Fantastic Art, Dada, Surrealism (1936; 3d ed. 1947).

Additional Sources

Andreotti, Margherita., The early sculpture of Jean Arp, Ann Arbor, Mich.: UMI Research Press, 1989. □

Arp, Jean

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Arp, Jean ( Hans) (1887–1966) Alsatian sculptor, painter and poet. During World War I, he founded the Zurich Dada movement with the Romanian artists Tristan Tzara, Marcel Janco, and others. He worked briefly with the Blaue Reiter group, and in the 1920s joined the surrealism movement. His sculpture spans the divide between Dada humour and the purity of non-iconic abstract art. Navel Shirt and Head (1926) and Human Concretion (1935) are typical.

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