Arman, Arrêt de temps (Time Stop), 1963, alarm clock on wood panel, 18 1/8 x 14 1/8".

Arman, Arrêt de temps (Time Stop), 1963, alarm clock on wood panel, 18 1/8 x 14 1/8".


Arman, Arrêt de temps (Time Stop), 1963, alarm clock on wood panel, 18 1/8 x 14 1/8".

The trajectory of Arman’s retrospective at the Centre Pompidou (now on view at the Tinguely Museum in Basel) was thematic, showing the artist’s pursuit of certain operational modes between the 1950s and the ’90s, and also the recurrence of several types of object; his production does not comply with common schemas of linear development or fall into distinct periods. Nevertheless, curator Jean-Michel Bouhous’s exhibition of 120 works imposed a visibly circular movement on his career: from painting to objects and back.

Arman, who was born in 1928 in Nice and died in 2006, came onto the artistic scene at the height of the School of Paris and of Lyrical Abstraction in the vein of Nicolas de Staël or Serge Poliakoff, which he practiced for a brief moment before extracting painting from its traditional framework, first through the use of rubber stamps, then through the accumulation, compression, or destruction of everyday objects. This arc, from abstraction to the direct use of objects taken from the immediate environment, was followed by numerous artists of his generation, in Europe and in the United States, but the coherence of the process is particularly clear in Arman’s case. A few galleries later, after one had reacquainted oneself with Arman’s output as a Nouveau Réaliste—officially between 1959 and 1962, although traces of the movement’s aesthetic would always mark his work—the exhibition concluded with works utilizing tubes of paint, which, violently crushed, project ribbons of color onto Plexiglas or canvas. With this “shooting” technique, which he began using in the late 1980s, the artist intended to enter into dialogue with Jackson Pollock’s dripping (in fact, one such work is titled Hello Jackson, 1990), but it was really “bad painting” that he was then encountering, with its attraction to overloading, destruction, dark humor, and bad taste—none of which, luckily, the museum’s sterility managed to circumvent.

Films of the artist were installed throughout the exhibition, and one could hear, from afar, interviews the artist gave through the years; it was impossible not to feel how alive he was. And how serious, too: concentrated when destroying a double bass, impassive while pressing his foot down onto his tubes of paint, absorbed when answering a journalist’s questions. One was struck by his restraint and how it contrasted with the surfeit shown in the works—as if nothing should be added, as if anger were always contained, like pleasure and playfulness. In one recording Arman recounts a childhood dream in which he finds piles of desired objects—tin soldiers and seashells—when moving his bedroom furniture. But childhood here seems very far away, held at a distance through irony or nostalgia. It is as a reflection on the states of the object that Arman’s work asserts itself, with a strength that remains intact: a “critical state,” the artist used to say, at the moment when the object is on the verge of disappearing into the masses; an “intermediary state” also, discovered in a Renault factory in car parts that had not yet been assembled, which Arman used for some of his “Accumulations” between 1967 and 1969. The matrix of Arman’s art is this transitory state where things are sufficiently drawn into themselves to become form, projected enough outside themselves to become elements of painting, in which they are so worn out, so damaged by age, so dusty that they become traces or signs of the past, to which they still bear witness.

Guitemie Maldonado

Translated from French by Molly Stevens.