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Arman: 40 Degrees Above Dada

Special To Topanga Journal

Dada: This influential movement started as a miniscule group but became the precursor to Abstract Art, sound poetry, performance art, postmodernism, the French influence on American pop art, anti-art, anarcho-political art and the basis for Surrealism. The German painter Kurt Schwitters was rejected from the Berlin Dada group, despite his Dada-influenced art, the same Schwitters who wrote the now famous Dada non-sensical love poem, “To Eve Blossom” and was most famous for his psychological collages,

Kriss Perras, Publisher & Editor Malibu Arts Journal

By Kriss Perras

or Merz Pictures. He was less political than other Dadaists included in the group such as, George Grosz, John Heartfield, Hannah Hoch or Raoul Hausmann, and was viewed by them as more aesthetic rather than Dadaist.

Nouveau Réalisme – a new approach to the perception of the real – that is the 1960’s manifesto signed by eminent artist and movement-setter Arman, along with originator Pierre Restany and Yves Klein plus the groundbreaking artists Francois Dufrêne, Raymond Hains, Martial Raysse, Daniel Spoerri, Jean Tinguely and Jacques de la Villeglé. Nouveau Réalisme was Paris’ answer to the American Pop Art, Fluxus and ‘60s avant-garde movements and evolved into 40° au-dessus de Dada (40° above Dada), the second Manifesto signed only a year after that of the contentious Nouveau Réalisme. To this group add the revolutionary artists César, Mimmo Rotella, Niki de Saint-Phalle, Gérard Deschamps and Christo and the pioneering ideas of Nouveau Réalisme proliferated across continents into other artistic movements and continue to do so today.

Arman is no longer with us, passing away in 2005 and leaving behind a legacy of numerous works of breadth and depth. Corice Canton Arman, his widow, still promotes her late-husband’s work across the globe. In a recent interview Malibu Arts Journal conducted with Mrs. Arman, she was very frank about her husband’s political opinions and influences on art as a whole.

“In an interview we conducted with Mrs. Arman, she was very frank about her husband’s political opinions and influences on art as a whole.” 

MAJ: Who were your late husband’s main influences?

MRS. ARMAN: Arman had great admiration for Poliakoff and de Stael. These influences were manifested in his early works. In 1954, he was introduced to the works of Werkman, Kurt Schwitters and Jackson Pollock.

MAJ: What were his feelings on Dada, its origins and how it influenced other movements worldwide?

MRS. ARMAN: He saw his first exhibition on Kurt Schwiters in 1954 at the Bergruen Gallery in Paris with rubber stamp imprints. Arman states in an interview, “Schwitters was an artist for artists. He is and he remains important by the influence he had on others and which he sowed. There are movements like Arte Povera, Weltzuarig, Beuys, etc., the Nouveau Realisme, Fluxus, all of whom would not be who they are today had Schwitters not created what he did.”

MAJ: Tell us how the Nouveau Réalisme Manifesto came into existence and what the signers thought it was about?

MRS. ARMAN: The writer Pierre Restany had interest in the works of Arman, Yves Klein, Tinguely and Raymond Hains as a group and had a strong desire to group them because of their differences and their similarities. Both Restany and Klein wanted to form a group, The New Realists, “new realities of today,” but it was Restany who coined the phrase “Nouveaux Realistes.” The manifesto was signed, but not without individual conflict by each artist involved based on style and action. This made it very difficult to find a definition of New Realists, which was “New Realism” equals “a new approach to the perception of the real.” Arman says, “his didn’t mean anything, but it could be applied to the different styles and actions,” which calmed the waves for everyone. There were nine to sign the Manifesto, which lasted 20-minutes due to mutual discord among the protagonists. Despite this, the 10th anniversary of the movement was celebrated in Milan in 1970. Arman states in an interview, “the movement and its cohesion lasted only 20-minutes, but the ‘label’ was a locomotive which served them all.” Arman was asked if within the movement there was a sentiment of individual artistic expression among themselves? His response was: “No. That was a question that arose when we were much younger between Yves Klein and myself.” Back then, our convictions were more spiritual. We had decided to divide the world between us in all consciousness, like the empire builders. And so every morning we would don our crowns, and we each thought of our imaginary “kingdoms.” Klein said, “I will concern myself with what is organic, and you will take what is manufactured. To share the world in this fashion was for us esthetic in nature. It came quite naturally, as if arranged in a drawer, and when shaken everything fell into place. I have a very simple theory. I have always claimed that objects composed themselves. Chance. There is nothing more controllable than chance in the long run. Since chance depends on laws, of quantity, for instance, it is no longer chance. Chance is my raw material.”

MAJ: Why was it important to Arman to not avoid politics in art? Did his cancellation of his 1990 Retrospective installation due to the anti-Semitic remarks by the former German Neo-Nazi influence him so much, or did he always feel politics and art do mix?

MRS. ARMAN: Arman always stood for what he believed in. He was a humanitarian. In an interview he said, “If you didn’t get involved with politics, politics will one day get involved with you.” Arman said in a an excerpt from an interview and his statement on the matter:

“It is my opinion that in a democracy everyone has the right to assemble and have free speech, and these rights should be respected, – including those of the members of the F.N. However, the mayor of Nice’s actions were merely sanctioned and in turn, linked him with the views of a political Party that I find to be distasteful, offensive and insulting. . .I believe that the truest act of tolerance is not to oblige others to do as you do. I must strongly underline this conclusion that my decision to cancel my show at the Museum of Contemporary and Modern Art was based on my deepest personal belief that it is essential to react against racism and Anti-Semitism. . .”

Arman was president of the local branch in the U.S. for Artists against Apartheid. He also made a poster/print for this. He was also president of the U.S. branch of Amnesty International. He staged a happening for the Defense Fund for the Black Panthers in 1970. He rented a gallery space, the Reese Paley Gallery on Prince Street in New York. He rented machinery. He invited anyone to bring any object they wanted, and he would slice it in half. All the proceeds went to the Defense Fund for the Black Panthers. Marisol Escobar brought a can of paint, full. Mrs. Arman expected Arman to slice the can with the machines, which would have resulted in an explosion. Arman, being very smart, punctured the can, drained the paint, then sliced the can. There was also a telephone from Robert Rauchenberg, who called and said “this is a cut conversation, if I say so,” and hung up on Arman then sent a check.

First published May 21, 2008 in Malibu Arts Journal Magazine. © 2008 Malibu Arts Journal.

© 2018 Topanga Journal.

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