Arman - Biography and Legacy
New York, NY, USA
Biography of Arman
Arman was born Armand Pierre Fernandez to Marie Jacquet and Antonio Fernandez in 1928. In his early years, Arman lived alone with Marie, who did not marry Antonio until Arman was five, and during those years he often relied on his own imagination and invention to occupy himself. Learning to play chess at the age of eight, Arman retained an interest in games of strategy throughout his life.
Although Arman admired his mother's strength of character, it was his father's cultural interests that shaped his career. Antonio enjoyed painting, poetry and music, and taught his son to paint at an early age. An antiques and furniture dealer, Antonio's interest in collecting provided fundamental inspiration for Arman's sculpture, particularly the accumulation pieces.
His father's side of the family, who were also well-versed in painting, encouraged Arman's artistic leanings, although his style diverged from the family's preference for traditional forms. After graduating with degrees in philosophy and mathematics, Arman enrolled in the Ecole Nationale d'Art Decoratif in Nice, but soon dropped-out due to the conservative views of the school.
While studying judo, in 1947, Arman met Yves Klein, who became his life-long friend and also his collaborator in the Nouveau Réalisme movement. In addition to painting, Arman and Klein were deeply involved in the study and practice of Hinduism, Rosicrucianism, and Zen Buddhism for the next several years. And out of admiration of Vincent Van Gogh, who signed his name only with "Vincent," they decided to use only their first names.
Following pressure from his father to take a "real" job, Arman enrolled in the Ecole de Louvre in 1949 and studied to be an auctioneer. During this time, he continued to paint, adopting a Surrealist style. By 1951, Arman had dropped out of the Ecole de Louvre and started to teach judo at a school in Madrid with Klein.
By 1953, Arman had returned to Nice, and had focused once again on art after an injury prevented his martial arts training. He worked part-time as a salesman for his father's business, developing a serious interest in antiques and collectibles. In the same year, he married Eliane Radigue, a composer and pianist. By this time, Arman's painting had evolved into a more abstract style that was heavily influenced by the painters Serge Poliakoff and Nicolas de Staël.
After seeing works by Kurt Schwitters in Paris in 1954, Arman began to experiment with rubber stamps, producing works called cachets that were included in his first solo exhibition in 1956. The stamp-and-ink technique marked a rejection of the lyricism of his earlier painting since it relied on the repetition of identical, readymade motifs; and the occasional use of date stamps pointed to a new preoccupation with time. The cachets then led to the allures d'objets, which utilized solid objects such as chains, pins and nails that were dipped in ink and imprinted on paper. Some of the allures were created by crushing fragile objects, which inspired a series of coleres (rages). These pieces mostly consisted of musical instruments smashed and then mounted onto a flat surface. Chosen perhaps in tribute to his father's cultured tastes, the coleres were simultaneously a homage to Cubism, and a provocative attack on a well-loved aspect of popular culture.
Armand Pierre Fernandez adopted the name Arman following a printer's error in an exhibition catalogfor his 1958 group show at Galerie Iris Clert, in which the 'd' was dropped from his name.
Perhaps Arman's greatest notoriety came in the wake of his 1960 exhibition, Le Plein (Full-up). In response to Yves Klein's earlier exhibition at the same gallery, Le Vide (Empty), Arman filled the gallery completely with trash to the extent that it could only be viewed through the window from the street. Originally, in accordance with his love of chance, Arman had wanted to have sanitation workers dump art in any manner they pleased into the gallery, but the city refused to allow it.
Le Plein caught the attention of art critic Pierre Restany, who declared that Arman's work exhibited the "properly architectonic dimension" of a new realism. And in the same year Arman signed a manifesto that aligned him with Restany, Klein and the other artists formed a new movement named Nouveau Realisme, a French equivalent of Pop art in America. Shortly after this, Arman's growing reputation led to his inclusion in the important American survey, The Art of Assemblage, which was staged at the Museum of Modern Art. During the show, Arman stayed in New York for several months and became fascinated with American culture, later moving there with his family in 1963.
Late Years and Death
Arman's first solo museum exhibition opened in 1964 at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, followed by his first retrospective in Brussels two years later. In 1971, Arman married Corice Canton after divorcing his first wife. They settled in New York permanently and gained American citizenship, Arman legally changing his name to Armand Pierre Arman. In New York, Arman continued to produce variations on his earlier art, and he also worked on a larger scale, creating monumental sculptures such as Long Term Parking (1982) and Hope for Peace (1976). Known for his strong views on politics and human rights, Arman served as the President of the New York chapter of Amnesty International for five years. These humanitarian principles also led him to pull out of his first retrospective in his hometown, Nice, which had hosted a convention during which a Neo-Nazi made Anti-Semitic remarks (the exhibition was later rescheduled for 2002). Arman died from cancer in 2005 at the age of seventy-seven.
The Legacy of Arman
Arman's work is an important bridge between European and American trends in Pop art in the 1960s through the 1970s. His own collection of African Art has been an invaluable addition to institutions worldwide, including the Museum of African Art in New York, where his wife is a current board member. The Armand P. Arman Trust and Corice Canton Arman continue to uphold his legacy, supporting education and research on the artist's life and work. A comprehensive exhibition of Arman's work opened in February 2011 at the Museum Tinguely in Basel, in conjunction with the Centre Pompidou, underlining Arman's enduring relevance in the art world today.