American sculptor and collector of French birth. He lived in Nice until 1949, studying there at the Ecole des Arts Décoratifs from 1946 and in 1947 striking up a friendship with Yves Klein, with whom he was later closely associated in the Nouveau réalisme movement. In 1949 he moved to Paris, where he studied at the Ecole du Louvre and where in an exhibition in 1954 he discovered the work of Kurt Schwitters, which led him to reject the lyrical abstraction of the period. In 1955 Arman began producing Stamps, using ink-pads in a determined critique of Art informel and Abstract Expressionism to suggest a depersonalized and mechanical version of all-over paintings. In his next series, the Gait of Objects, which he initiated in 1958, he took further his rejection of the subjectivity of the personal touch by throwing inked objects against the canvas.
Arman’s willingness to embrace chance was indicated by his decision in 1958 to change his name in accordance with a printing error, having already stopped using his surname in 1947. The attitude was consistent with that of his work, which by the late 1950s had moved away from traditional painting and sculpture in favour of the object and specifically of the ready-made as defined in the Dada movement by Marcel Duchamp. In his Accumulations he piled up identical salvaged objects, modifying their meaning by repetition and giving the construction an ironic title, as with the accumulation of gas masks, Home Sweet Home (1960; Paris, Pompidou). He continued this aesthetic of detritus and scrap in another particularly provocative group of works, the Dustbins, transparent containers in which he placed either rubbish he had collected or objects that had belonged to a friend, as in Robot-portrait of Yves Klein, The Monochrome (1960; Paris, priv. col., see 1986 exh. cat., p. 117).
In response to Yves Klein’s installation of an empty room, The Void (Paris, Gal. Iris Clert, 1958), Arman exhibited Fullness (Paris, Gal. Iris Clert, 1960), a gigantic accumulation of refuse that filled the same space from floor to ceiling; both works were important early examples of Environmental art. He soon widened his vocabulary by choosing both to cut the objects into thin strips, revealing their internal structure, and to destroy them violently during Rages held in public as a kind of performance art. The objects used by Arman were extremely diverse, but they were always familiar things collected in considerable quantities. Among those he favoured were those deriving from domestic consumption, such as coffee grinders and beer glasses, as well as musical instruments, which he subjected to all kinds of violence and destruction, as in Chopin’s Waterloo . In 1963 he began another series, Combustions, using fire as his basic material. Arman’s ill-treatment of objects, especially in his early work, was due less to a systematically destructive will than to a desire to provoke new aesthetic effects. The subsequent development of his art largely confirms this view, as in his Inclusions, such as Venus of the Shaving Brushes (1969; London, Tate), which consist of transparent polyester containers holding objects embedded in resin; this became a standard form for many of his works. In the mid-1960s he used tubes of paint dribbling colour as a parody of abstract painting, especially of the impasto effects of Tachism, and he also began using polyester to preserve perishable rubbish for a new series of Dustbins.
From the mid-1960s Arman made numerous visits to New York, and he soon came to regard the USA as his second home, taking American citizenship in 1972. The stocks of new objects that he discovered there directed him towards new and more abstract accumulations. These culminated in 1967–8 in the Renault Accumulations (e.g. Renault Accumulation No. 106, 1967; see 1986 exh. cat., p. 221), highly sculptural works made from separate pieces supplied by the Renault car factory, and in large-scale commissioned monuments such as Long Term Parking (h. 18 m, 1982–3; Jouy-en-Josas, Fond. Cartier Mus.), a gigantic tower consisting of 60 cars embedded in concrete. In his later work he also recast some of his earlier Rages and Combustions in bronze, and in another series, Armed Objects, he used concrete as a base in which to fix the object, somewhat in the way he had previously used transparent plastic. He broadened his imagery to include tools while remaining faithful above all to objects symbolizing the excesses of the consumer society. Arman was also an avid collector of objects, artefacts and works of art, including watches, radios, cars, European pistols, African carved sculpture (especially Kota guardian figures) and Japanese armour.
From Grove Art Online
© 2009 Oxford University Press