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January 12, 2014 9:16 pm
It was chance that Jean Arp began life as Hans Arp – he was born in Alsace-Lorraine in 1886, soon after France had ceded the territory to Germany – and chance again that he became Jean, when France regained Alsace in 1918. Buffeted by history, Arp played the role of a lunatic first to escape it – in the paperwork for the first world war draft, he wrote the date in every box instead of his name, address, profession, before marching stark naked into the army office – and subsequently, as a founder of Zurich’s Dada movement in 1916, to comment on its absurdities.
A German Dadaist, Parisian surrealist and bilingual poet, Arp grounded his sculptural vocabulary in biomorphic forms and made chance and accident his themes. This show, which includes broadcast recordings of Arp’s poems, is centred visually on his late, lesser-known sculptures in bronze, marble and aluminium from 1947-65: a late flowering of classical modernism where abstract elements based on a language of opposites – inside/outside, solid/void, human/natural – are collided with those suggesting introverted figures, as in “Resting Leaf”, “Plant Torso”, “Ptolemy II”, “Daphne”, “Cup with Small Chimera”. Installed densely in an irregular layout, the sculptures suggest an infinite metamorphosis of shapes.
Austrian sculptor Franz West, who died in 2012, is probably the early 21st-century artist most sympathetic to what curator Julian Heynen calls Arp’s “positive aimlessness”. Heynen’s pairing of West and Arp here brings out the grace and rigour of the former, the playfulness of the latter, and the emphasis both placed on the arbitrary. West’s “Adaptives”, or “Fitting Pieces”, three-dimensional collages of ordinary objects and furniture parts in bright colours – which the artist intended as interactive elements to be touched, climbed over, sat on – are mixed in among Arp’s sculptures, and give a contemporary, performative aspect to a show centred on the paradox of how an art of the provisional can be lasting.
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