Comprising more than 53,000 artworks, the collection of MoMA’s Department of Prints and Illustrated Books tells the story of modern and contemporary art through editions: art objects that can exist in more than one copy. As you might guess from the name of the department, the vast majority of these are works on paper; however, the collection also represents the rich tradition of three-dimensional editions, known as multiples. Newly acquired this year, two intriguing artworks by the French-born artist Arman demonstrate the thought-provoking qualities of this format. Arman was a member of the Nouveaux Réalistes, a group of artists whose members included Yves Klein, Jean Tinguely, Niki de Saint Phalle, and Christo. The group’s manifesto, composed in October 1960, announced their search for “new ways of perceiving the real.” Seeking to bridge the gap between fine art and the everyday, the Nouveaux Réalistes utilized in their artworks processes and materials familiar from contemporary urban life.
In 1959 Daniel Spoerri, a Swiss artist and cosigner of the Nouveau Réaliste manifesto, founded a groundbreaking publishing entity known as Edition MAT (Multiplication d’Art Transformable). Though Edition MAT published editions of 100 objects, each piece was in fact unique in some way; many were handmade and had kinetic or transformable aspects. Selling these multiples at more modest prices than “original” artworks, Edition MAT made work by some of the 20th century’s most important artists—including Marcel Duchamp, Man Ray, Dieter Roth, and Christo—accessible to a broader public.
Arman’s Untitled works pictured above, acquired by MoMA’s Department of Prints and Illustrated Books in May, are two examples from an edition of 100 published by Edition MAT in 1965. Each piece comprises a single shoe—cleanly bisected and carefully arranged, insides facing out—in an acrylic display case of the artist’s design. Take a close look at these works and you will see the guts of the shoes, so to speak: seams, layers of fabric, stuffing, and wood grain. Most of us wear shoes like these every day without ever getting to see (or stopping to think about) exactly what’s inside. In deconstructing and framing these shoes, Arman renders them useless while simultaneously elevating them to the status of art. By exposing the mutability of these humble shoes, He calls into question the viewer’s preconceived notions about the dichotomy between art and everyday life.
To see other recent acquisitions of the Department of Prints and Illustrated Books, visit MoMA’s website. Or, better yet, come explore New to the Print Collection: Matisse to Bourgeois, on view in the Museum’s Paul J. Sachs Prints and Illustrated Books Galleries through January 7, 2013.