New York


John Gibson Gallery

Whatever my problems with the work of Greenleaf and Chirino, I am in no doubt that they’re serious and sensitive in what they do. But if there ever was a time when Arman could be taken seriously it’s certainly not now, which perhaps explains why he’s recently exhibited not once but twice.

Arman likes to collect garbage, and then package it. Sometimes he casts it into a lump and sometimes he shuts it up in a plastic box. His career is bracketed, in fact, by Bourgeois Trash, Economy Size, 1960—why, by the way, is it bourgeois trash? Proles and aristocrats surely have as much use for Tam-pax and toothpaste as the class in between—and a recent piece in which the garbage of five artists is preserved in tall plastic display cases. A. J. Weberman—who is, after all, an expert on garbage exploitation—commented to me that Arman doesn’t manipulate his garbage enough. I’d say he manipulates it too much. A few years ago Arman’s agent, Sam Greene, approached the New York City Parks Department with the idea of installing six-foot-high containers in Central Park. These were to be filled with leaves and dog shit and so on, collected by the boy scouts or some such group, and would constitute a work by Arman. The idea was allowed to slip into limbo when someone pointed out that such a piece would (literally) stink. I suspect that a search for clean garbage was initiated and that the artists’ garbage piece is the result.

Another thing Arman likes to do is to destroy musical instruments. This is understandable, because the instruments he tears apart tend to be the anthropomorphic ones from the string section—he’s especially fond of the cello—and these, as well as being sexy, also serve to establish a link with the iconography of “high culture” that makes his treatment of them seem that much more, well, devilish I suppose. Downtown, Arman showed a piece in which a cello was destroyed in a variety of ways, slicing, burning, etc. This was more systematic than his usual, looser, method of destruction. Both kinds suggest—to me—nothing so much as those parties flappers used to have that would end with everyone smashing the most valuable china he could get his hands on.

Jeremy Gilbert-Rolfe