Biography of French Sculptor, Assemblage Artist, Founder of Nouveau Realisme.

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The Time of All (1989)
Saint Lazare Station, Paris.

Arman (1928-2005)


Early Life & Training
Artistic Career 1955-1959
Nouveau Realisme (New Realism)
Moves to the United States
Exhibitions of Works by Arman
Public Collections in America

Long Term Parking (1982)
Cartier Museum, Chateau de Montcel
Jouy-en-Josas, France.

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One of the most innovative of 20th century sculptors and a co-founder and member of the Nouveau Realisme movement, the French-born object artist Arman is famous for his junk art - itself a reflection of his move away from conventional painting and sculpture towards the object, particularly the readymade type. Influenced by Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968), Kurt Schwitters (1887-1948) and the earlier Dada anti-art movement, Arman joined Paris-based postmodernist artists Yves Klein, Jean Tinguely, Cesar Baldaccini, Niki de Saint Phalle and Christo Javacheff in the forefront of avant-garde art in Europe of the late 1950s and early 1960s. As well as co-producing several Happenings with Klein, Arman is noted for his Neo-Dada style stamp prints ('Cachets'), his later prints made from objects dipped into paint ('Allures') a range of cut-up objects ('Coupes') and smashed-up items ('Coleres'). At the beginning of the 1960s, he started on his series of see-thru plastic cases containing rubbish (like gas-masks). These works were followed by his famous assemblage artworks ('Accumulations'), that is, collections of mass-produced everyday objects, like telephones or toothbrushes, such as Accumulation of Sliced Teapots (1964, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis). From the mid-1970s onwards, he devoted seven years to a monumental sculpture made from 60 cars, entitled Long Term Parking (1982, Cartier Museum, Jouy-en-Josas). An advocate of postmodernist art that engaged with the materials and excesses of the consumer society, Arman was an important figure in European contemporary art.

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Early Life & Training

Born Armand Pierre Fernandez in Nice, France (he changed to his pseudonym when the last letter of his name was accidentally omitted on a catalogue cover in 1958, although he had stopped using his surname in 1947), he learned painting from his father and received formal training at the Ecole Nationale des Arts Decoratifs in Nice (1946-1949). During this time he made friends with his Nice contemporary Yves Klein (1928-62), before moving to Paris where he continued his studies for a further two years at the Ecole du Louvre, majoring in archeology and Japanese art. He also learned judo, a skill from which, like Klein, he taught for a living during his early years as an artist. During the early 1950s he served his time in the French army, completing a tour of duty in Indo-China. In 1953, he married the music composer Eliane Radigue with whom he later had three children.

Artistic Career 1955-1959

His first artistic explorations involved abstract paintings but after seeing the 1954 Paris retrospective exhibition on the assemblage art of the innovative Dadaist Kurt Schwitters, he began to reject traditional painting (notably the Lyrical Abstraction variant of New York Abstract Expressionism) and sculpture, in favour of a more contemporary focus on the object.

In essence, object art - originated by Marcel Duchamp - is any type of junk plastic art, that is, any three-dimensional work made from objects or materials accumulated by the artist which are then constructed, arranged or affixed together in some symbolic or meaningful way.

After an interesting experiment with two-dimensional accumulations (Dadaist stamp prints dubbed 'cachets') which he showed at a solo exhibition staged at Paris's trendy Galerie Iris Clert in 1958, Arman moved on to his 'Coupes' and 'Coleres' accumulations of objects which he cut into thin strips before smashing them to pieces in public, in a sort of action-packed performance art. Afterwards, some of these broken items would be arranged on canvases.

Nouveau Realisme (New Realism)

In October 1960, Arman, along with Yves Klein, the Swiss sculptor Jean Tinguely (1925-91), the art critic Pierre Restany (1930-2003) and others, set up the Nouveau Realisme group. Later joined by sculptors Cesar (1921-98) and Niki de Saint Phalle (1930-2002), as well as the empaquetage (wrapping) artists Christo & Jeanne-Claude, these confident young artists proclaimed their "new sense of reality" and their determination to create a new concept of art which reemphasized the paramount importance of humanism in a society becoming more and more dominated by materialism. The group's ideas echoed those of their American contemporaries Jasper Johns (b.1930) and Robert Rauschenberg (1925-2008), the early pioneers of Pop art, who were also experimenting with how to engage with the new consumerism. It was also around this time that the Russian-American experimental sculptor Louise Nevelson (1899-1988) began producing her famous assemblages known as 'sculptured walls', and only a few years since Jean Dubuffet (1901-85) had begun his own form of junk art which had an important impact on junk sculpture practised by Arman and others.


From 1959 to 1962, Arman developed the style for which he is best-remembered - accumulations of identical, instantly recognizable junk objects. These works provoked a very positive response from viewers and persuaded Arman he was definitely onto something. He began with collections of objects in Plexiglas cases or collections of garbage ('Poubelles') - witness his Full Up exhibition ('Le Plein') at the Galerie Iris Clert, in direct contrast to Klein's earlier Empty exhibition ('Le Vide') at the same venue called "Le Vide" - before settling on simple assemblages of objects often welded together.

The basic artistic concept behind Arman's accumulations was twofold. First, he sought to highlight the wasteful excesses of the new materialist society: like Schwitters, he saw his artworks as almost defining the society he was living in. Second, he set his sights on generating a new set of aesthetics: dissatisfied with intellectual, high-brow fine art (the sort represented by abstract expressionism and classical sculpture), he wanted to promote more accessible types of art, made from everyday objects, which ordinary people could relate to without difficulty. In this sense, his work fits comfortably within the Pop art genre.

Moves to the United States

From 1961 onwards, the year of his debut one-man show at the Cordier Warren Gallery, Arman's growing fascination with the American art scene led him to take up part-time residency in New York, eventually becoming an American citizen in 1972. Initially staying at the Chelsea Hotel while maintaining an art studio in the Bowery, Arman began with his accumulations of burnt objects ('Combustiones') in 1963, before later devoting himself to large-scale public sculptures. These were variations of his accumulations and assemblages, and comprised musical instruments, car parts, watches, clocks, tools, furniture, jewellery and many other items. Of Arman's accumulations, one of his biggest is Long Term Parking (1982) a 60-foot high accumulation of 60 cars embedded in concrete, now on display at the Chateau de Montcel in Jouy-en-Josas, France. An even larger work is his work of public art entitled Hope for Peace (1995) a 105-foot tall assemblage made from over 80 tanks and other military vehicles.



Exhibitions of Works by Arman

Gradually recognized as being one of the top contemporary artists within the world of avant-garde sculpture and assemblage, Arman's work has been widely exhibited in many of the best art museums across six continents. In Europe, the latter include: the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam; Palais de Beaux-Arts, Brussels; Musee des Arts Decoratifs, Paris; Kunsthalle, Berlin; Moderna Museet, Stockholm; Kunsthaus, Zurich; Musee National d'Art Moderne, Pompidou Centre; Musee d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris; Musee du Jeu de Paume, Paris, and many others.

Analyzing Sculpture
To learn how to evaluate avant-garde sculptors like Arman Fernandez, see: How to Appreciate Modern Sculpture. For earlier works, see: How to Appreciate Sculpture.

Public Collections in America

Works by Arman are held by the following art museums in America.

- Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, California.
- Boca Raton Museum of Art, Florida.
- Ulrich Museum of Art, Wichita, Kansas.
- Harvard Art Museum, Cambridge, Massachusetts.
- Detroit Institute of Arts, Michigan.
- Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, Minnesota.
- Laumeier Sculpture Park, St. Louis, Missouri.
- Saint Louis Art Museum, St. Louis, Missouri.
- Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York.
- Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, DC.

• For more about the history and styles of assemblages and accumulations, see: Homepage.

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