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Jean Arp: The Artist of Organic Abstraction


Embracing chance and spontaneity as integral components of the artistic process and fashioning abstract sculptures out of plaster, stone and bronze that suggest organic forms, the German-French sculptor, painter and poet, Jean Arp, also called Hans Arp, is acclaimed as one of the leaders of the European avant-garde in arts during the first half of the 20th century.

Best-known for his biomorphic sculptures, the artist was born Hans Peter Wilhelm Arp, in Strasbourg, on September 16, 1886, when the city was under German Empire. Arp was of French Alsatian and German ancestry, and thus, his parents gave him both French and German names. In 1900, he began studying art in his home town of Strasbourg, transferred to Weimar, Germany, and completed his studies at Académie Julian in Paris.

In 1909, Arp went to Switzerland, and by 1911, had cofounded the first modern alliance ‘Der Moderne Bund’ in Weggis, near Lucerne. The alliance was an association of artists dedicated to modern art. In 1912, he travelled to Munich, where he met Wassily Kandinsky and through him became briefly associated with the Expressionist artists’ group Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider). He was also connected with Der Strum in Berlin and exhibited with them in 1913.

In 1914, Arp returned to Paris and befriended Amedeo Modigliani, Pablo Picasso, Sonia and Robert Delaunay, as well as the writer Max Jacob. During the World War I, Arp took refuge in Zürich, where he became one of the founders of the Dada movement in early 1916. In Zürich, he met artist Sophie Taeuber, whom he married in 1922. The couple worked together on nonrepresentational collages called “Duo-Collages”.

After the World War, Arp and his wife lived in Germany until 1924, and then settled near Paris in the town of Meudon in 1926. During the 1920s he was associated with the Surrealists, and in 1930 he briefly joined the short-lived abstract artists’ Cercle et Carré (Circle and Square) group. The same year he created his first “papiers déchirés” (torn papers), works of art created per the Surrealist dictate of leaving creation to chance.

In 1931, Arp participated in the Abstraction-Création movement, which absorbed the members of Cercle et Cadre. These association connected him to Constructivism, a movement that emphasized a more rational and ordered art than Surrealism. During this period Arp's art incorporated harder edges, sharper angles and straighter lines.

During World War II Arp returned to Zürich, and while there he did his first “papiers froissés” (crumpled papers). After the war Arp returned to Meudon, where he continued his experiments with abstract form and color in two and three dimensions and wrote essays and poetries, many of which were dedicated to his wife. The name of the collection is “Arp on Arp: Poems, Essays, Memories by Jean Arp” (1972). His “Collected French Writings” (1974) were edited by the surrealist artist and writer Marcel Jean.

In his last decades, Arp enjoyed many successes including Grand Prize for Sculpture at the 1954 Venice Biennale, a commission for the UNESCO building (UNESCO Constellation, 1958) in Paris, and retrospectives at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, in 1958 and at the Musée National d’Art Moderne, Paris, in 1962.

Arp suffered a heart attack in Basel, Switzerland, on June 7, 1966, and passed away shortly afterward, leaving behind him a legacy that continues to shape the history of art.



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