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Hans Arp (1886 - 1966)

Image credit: Ernst Scheidegger
Born in Strassburg to a French mother and German father, the sculptor, painter and collagist referred to himself both as “Hans” and “Jean” Arp. After leaving the Ecole des Arts et Métiers in Strassburg in 1904, Arp went on to study at the Kunstschule, Weimer, in 1905, and then at the Académie Julian in Paris in 1908. While he is best known as one of the founders of the Dada movement, Arp was associated with several artistic movements over the course of his life. After moving to Switzerland in 1909, he was a founder of the first modern art alliance there, “Der Moderner Bund.” In 1912, Arp travelled to Munich, where he met Wassily Kandinsky and became associated with the Expressionist artists’ group “Der Blaue Reiter.” That same year he participated in a major exhibition in Zurich, alongside Kandinsky, Henri Matisse and Robert Delaunay. In 1913, the art dealer Herwarth Walden, at the time one of the most important promoters of European avant-garde artists, began to support and promote Arp’s work. In 1915, he moved to Zurich, where he met the artist, and his future wife, Sophie Taeuber, with whom he collaborated on tapestries and collages, known as their “Duo-Collages.”

As both a pioneer of Surrealism and a founder member of the Dada movement, Arp’s work straddles the divide between these major movements of the early 20th century. The Dada movement was formed in response to the horrors of the first World War and called for the destruction of established rules, resulting in satirical and absurd poetry and art. When the writer, Hugo Ball, opened a satirical night-club in Zurich in 1916, the Cabaret Voltaire, it became the centre of Dada activities and was frequented by Arp, Marcel Janco and Tristan Tzara. In 1920, Arp, Max Ernst and the social activist Alfred Grunwald started the Cologne Dada group. Arp also participated in the Exposition Internationale Dada at the Galerie Montaigne in Paris. However, throughout the 1920s he was also closely associated with Surrealism, and his work featured in the first exhibition of the Surrealist group at the Galerie Pierre in Paris in 1925. In 1931, he broke with Surrealism and became part of the Abstraction-Création association of artists.

It was in this period, beginning in the 1930s, that Arp expanded from collages and started to create brass, bronze, plaster and stone sculptures. Indeed, he is best known for these biomorphic sculptures. Despite their abstract forms, his sculptures represent natural subjects such as plants and body parts. Natural themes of growth, transformation and metamorphosis dominate his work. While his work is not representational, it is first and foremost inspired by nature, as Arp once claimed, “one has to create like nature.”

Arp’s work has been collected and exhibited worldwide. He has been honoured with major retrospectives at the MoMA (1958) and the Musée National d’Art Moderne (1962) and the 1986 exhibition, “The Universe of Jean Arp,” which toured internationally. During his lifetime, he received several prestigious awards, including the Grand Prize for Sculpture at the Venice Biennale in 1954, the Grand Prix National des Arts (1963), the Carnegie Prize (1964) and the Order of Merit with a Star of the German Republic. The Arp Foundation currently preserves most of the artist’s sculptures, and many of his works are housed in the Musée d’Art Moderne et Contemporain in Strasbourg.
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