Rodin / Arp

Rodin and Arp

Rodin and Arp, figuration and sculptural abstraction

A great tandem of masters although they probably never met. The French Auguste Rodin is considered the father of modern sculpture and Arp played a key role in XX Century Abstract Sculpture with his organic biomorphic shapes. Rodin, figurative, concentrated on working with bronce while Arp, abstract, preferred the marble.

For the first time, a museum brings into dialogue this two genius. We can see an original join exhibition of both artists, thanks to three museums: it was conceived by Fondation Beyeler, Basel (Switzerland), in cooperation with the Arp Museum Bahnhof Rolandseck, Remagen (Germany) and the Musée Rodin, Paris.

The two great sculptors, Auguste Rodin and Jean Arp created works that marked their time and have remained art icons to this day. Rodin lived in Paris in the time of Impressionism (1840–1917) and half a century later, Jean Hans Arp was born, a French German sculptor, painter and poet (1886–1966), one of the founders of Dada movement.

Comparing his two artists shows the incredible groundbreaking transformation of sculpture. Each one immersed in a different era and yet, they are both characterised by a unique artistic innovation and joy of experimentation.

The exhibit starts with the most famous figure by Rodin, The Thinker, standing in front of Arp’s Ptolemy, honouring the philosopher who shaped the geocentric view of the universe. So both works together represent the dialogue between two historic thinkers. Further more, this combination embodies the extraordinary transition from figurative to abstract sculpture: from Rodin to Arp.

Since I already wrote an article on Rodin (Neomania #36) this time, we will focus on Jean Arp.

I do not want to reproduce. I want to produce.

Jean Arp

Many people think that Arp’s original name was Hans and he changed it to Jean. But he simply referred to himself as Hans when he spoke in German and Jean when he was in France. With a French mother and and German father, he adopted both cultures and spoke two languages. Born in Strasbourg, he went to different art schools to hone his craft not only in poetry but also in sculpture and painting, including the famous Academie Julian in Paris.

Arp started his career as a poet and published his first poetry in 1904 in Paris. He travelled a lot, taking advantage of the opportunity where he could show his works and grow as an artist. In 1905, Arp went to Weimar (Germany) and studied in the famous Bauhaus art school for two years. He was encouraged by Kandinsky, the influential Russian painter and art theorist. They both exhibited with the Der Blue Reiter group.

Later Arp was a founder- member of the Moderne Bund (Modern Alliance), one of the earliest associations that encouraged contemporary art in Switzerland. The group did well, making a mark in the culture and arts of the country.

Since moving to Zurich (Switzerland) in 1912, he joined a major painting exhibition with renowned painters like Henri Matisse, Wasilly Kandinsky and Robert Delaunay. There he met Sophie Taueber, dancer and artist.

Jean Arp was also a founding member of Dada. Dadaism was an art movement of the European avant-garde in the early 20th century, with its centre at the Cabaret Voltaire in Zurich. They rejected logic, reason, and aestheticism of modern capitalist society. Instead they expressed nonsense, irrationality and anti-bourgeois protest in their works. The movement spanned visual, literary and sound media, including collage, sound poetry, writing and sculpture. Dadaist artists and poets were against violence, war and nationalism. Their art was a battle-cry to end World War I.

Jean Arp fue miembro fundador del Dada. El Dadaísmo fue un movimiento artístico de la vanguardia europea de principios el siglo XX, con su centro en el Cabaret Voltaire de Zurich. Rechazaban la lógica, la razón y el esteticismo de la sociedad capitalista. En cambio, con sus obras ensalzaban las tonterías absurdas, irracionalidad y protesta anti-burguesa. El movimiento abarcó medios visuales, literarios y sonoros, incluidos el collage, la poesía sonora, la escritura y la escultura. Los artistas y poetas dadaístas estaban en contra de la violencia, la guerra y el nacionalismo. Su arte era un grito de protesta para poner fin a la Primera Guerra Mundial.

Arp was very popular as he was associated and founder of different groups and worked with renowned artists. Until the end of his life, he wrote and published essays and poetry. He also painted but mainly, he is known for his creations of very fine biomorphic sculptures. In 1942 he fled from Paris to escape German occupation and lived in Zurich until the war ended.

Arp visited New York in 1949 for his own exhibition at the Buchholz Gallery. In 1950 he was invited to execute a relief for Harvard University in Cambridge and commissioned a mural for the UNESCO building in Paris. Some of his awards include the Venice Biennale, Pittsburgh International, Carnegie Prize, Grand Prix National des Arts, University of Hamburg’s Goethe Prize and the Order of Merit in Germany.

There are three Arp foundations in Europe: Fondation Arp in Clamart (France) preserves the atelier where he lived and worked. Fondazione Marguerite Arp-Hagenbach was founded by Arp‘s second wife in Locarno (Switzerland). The Stiftung Hans Arp und Sophie Taeuber-Arp was established by dealer Johannes Wasmuth who owns his largest collection and holds the copyright of all his works with a research centre in Berlin.

I allow myself to be guided by the work which is in the process of being born, I have confidence in it. I do not think about it. The forms arrive pleasant, or strange, hostile, inexplicable, mute, or drowsy. They are born from themselves. It seems to me as if all I do is move my hands.

Jean Arp| “Arp on Arp”, 1958

“Rodin/ Arp” at Beyeler Foundation, with around 110 works from international museums and private collections, is one of the most extensive sculpture exhibitions ever staged. It brings together many iconic works by both artists as well as rarely shown sculptures, reliefs and works on paper.

Rodin introduced transformational ideas and new artistic possibilities, which Arp later took up, developed, reinterpreted or contrasted in his biomorphic shapes. The two artists’ exceptionally prolific and varied oeuvres display many artistic affinities and shared references, as well as marked differences, turning the confrontation of their distinctive works into a particularly revealing visual experience.

The exhibition pairs the groundbreaking work of late 19th-century sculpture’s great reformer with the influential work of a major protagonist of 20th-century abstract sculpture. If I had to choose the main point in common, is that both artists displayed exceptional artistic inventiveness and enthusiasm for experimentation. Their work left a deep imprint on their times and retain their full relevance to this day.

The sculptural milestones created by Rodin and Arp provide remarkable illustrations of fundamental aspects in the development of modern sculpture.

Beyeler Foundation is celebrating its reopening in March 1st. They were forced to close a week after opening in December due to the second pandemic lockdown. The show has been extended to May 2021.

Sculpture should walk on the tips of its toes, unostentatious, unpretentious, and light as the spoor of an animal in snow. Art should melt into and even merge with nature itself. This is obviously contrary to painting and sculpture based on nature. By so doing, art will rid itself more and more of self-centredness, virtuosity and absurdity.

Jean Arp | “Arp on Arp”, 1958
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