Executed while Arp was visiting Schwitters in Hannover, this print portfolio was published as the fifth issue of Merz magazine. The title "Arpaden" is a made-up word meaning “Arp things.” In these seven lithographs, Arp created a series of simple yet graphically powerful "object pictures"—Mustache Hat, The Navel Bottle, Mustache Watch, Eggbeater—that combine allusions to body parts and everyday things.
Narrator: Hans Arp collaborated with Kurt Schwitters on a number of projects, including this one, published in Schwitters' Merz magazine. They were bound by a common interest in poetry, word play, and abstraction.
Curator, Anne Umland: Arp, like Schwitters, was a poet, but in the interplay between the verbal and the visual, a slippage between the two is perhaps nowhere better seen than in this series of seven Arpaden, published in 1923. Each one of these seven boldly graphic images came with a very particular title.
Moving along the wall you can see the first one's title is Mustache Hat. Then as you move through the series there are different forms: Navel Bottle, Mustache Watch, Egg Beater, Arabic Eight. All of the titles and shapes themselves are purposefully open-ended to provoke as many associations as possible. There's a fabulous fairytale-like narrative that might emerge from these different bold, graphic, yet elliptical forms arrayed before us.
A pioneer of abstract art, Jean (born Hans) Arp was a founder of the Dada movement and was also active in Surrealist and Constructivist circles. In addition to sculpture, he produced poetry, painting and more than four hundred prints during his lifetime. Given his literary activities, it is not surprising that many of his prints were illustrations for books and journals, with a significant group made for Dada publications between 1916 and 1920.
In 1915 Arp moved from Paris to Zurich, seeking refuge from the disturbing events of World War I. A year later, he was instrumental in establishing Dada with a group of like-minded artists and writers there who devoted themselves to challenging existing notions of art and encouraged experimentation with spontaneous and seemingly irrational methods of artistic creation. During this period, Arp evolved the practice of combining abstract shapes and relying on techniques of chance, on one occasion throwing debris onto the beach and recording its forms. In this way, he created biomorphic shapes that were often derived from nature or humble everyday objects that slyly and humorously suggest figurative presences.
The portfolio 7 Arpaden was published as issue number five of the avant-garde journal Merz, a project of Arp's friend Kurt Schwitters. A play on the German word for commerce, "Merz" was the term Schwitters used to describe his wide range of artistic and literary activities. The title Arpaden is a neologism meaning "Arp things." Contrary to most issues of Merz, number five included no text but rather a series of what Arp called "object pictures" expressing a personal lanugage of forms and symbols.