New York

Arman

John Gibson Gallery

In a crowded performance entitled Conscious Vandalism, the nouveau realiste accumulator Arman busted up two rooms of furniture comprising, he said, a “typical bourgeois apartment.” A decorous announcement in wedding-script type set the tone of pretended gentility. Then Arman, alternately wielding a razor, two axes, and a sledge hammer, proceeded to destroy the mock living room and bedroom constructed along one wall of the gallery. The audience was roused to especially loud cheers for the masterful battering of a liquor cabinet, a TV set, and a Dali print hanging above the bed. After the performance, the ruins and a color videotape of the action remained on exhibition. But why’d he do it? Does he plan to repeat this simple formula of ironic violence ad infinitum? It’s hardly inciteful. As Saul Ostrow remarked, these were two rooms that everyone agreed should be destroyed. Before the action, I talked with several people about just how the job should be done, where the clobbers should be directed for maximum damage and dramatic effect.

We’ve all got, I think, our own favorite examples of this genre of aggression against the symbolic attributes of materialist culture. Two of mine are the bizarre masque of a couple destroying a hotel room that Van Italie interjected in America, Hurrah and the spectacular scenes of overstocked refrigerators dynamited to bits that closes Antonioni’s Zabriskie Point. Those scenes had a function in a larger drama. Is Arman maybe the formalist of the genre? In that case, the destruction would have been more complete if he’d wielded the power equipment he apparently uses for his sculpture. Or was he maybe playing to the sizable number of Europeans in the audience who might enjoy the simple spectacle of Arman shocking America?

Alan Moore