Hans Arp
Chance – Form – Language (and a FRANZWESTigation)

Past Exhibition 10 Jan – 1 Mar 2014 London


Curated by Julian Heynen, this exhibition examines the relationship between form and chance in a selection of Hans Arp‘s important but rarely seen sculptures from 1947 to 1965. In an unusual approach, Heynen positions Arp’s work alongside Passstücke (Adaptives) by Franz West, examining the shared creative principle of the two artists. A selection of Arp’s poetry will be installed on the walls and broadcast throughout the gallery.

Hans Arp is a familiar figure of classical Modernism and was a key contributor in the development of Dada and Surrealism in the early twentieth century, yet it was during the following decades that he would articulate the forms to which he would persistently return. Although his later practice is often overlooked, Arp continued producing sculpture and poetry in a continuation of the Dada tradition until his death in 1966, during which time he built up an incredible body of work.

‘Chance – Form – Language’ comprises twenty sculptures from Arp’s later period, cast in the artist’s preferred materials of bronze, marble and aluminium. The sculptures are broadly figurative and demonstrate a loose continuation of classical traditions, depicting curved organoid shapes which originate from an observation of nature combined with an element of fantasy. Arp’s creative process was guided by intuition and informed by chance; burgeoning, abstract forms encounter complex, introverted figures, revealing an unique visual vocabulary with a basis in biomorphism.

‘Ptolemy II’ is a seminal example of Arp’s approach to sculpture in his later period, revealing an exploration of form through a sensual language of opposites – inside and outside; solid and void; presence and emptiness, human and nature. The sculpture is a singular, timeless form that both draws on and transcends sculptural abstraction and the history of art, becoming autonomous and placeless, freed from commissions with an intrinsic beauty of its own.

Within this exhibition Arp’s works are presented in a dense but irregular installation, forging connections between individual sculptures while becoming immersed in an almost endless metamorphoses of shapes. Arp’s poetry, an intrinsic part of his practice, is given equal importance in the exhibition. Over 20 of his poems will be broadcast into selected areas of the gallery through ceiling speakers. Excerpts from another group of 27 poems will be installed directly onto the gallery walls. The concurrent presentation of Arp’s two spheres of artistic activity in a single space will awaken a sense of consistency across his work as a whole, demonstrating how his material and linguistic forms interpenetrate and complement each other.

Works by Franz West punctuate the exhibition to shed an unexpected light upon Arp’s practice. Franz West’s Passstücke invite interpretation through human participation. As in Arp’s late work, the sculptures themselves are ambiguous semi-organic forms – meaning evolves through the way humans intuitively engage with the pieces, introducing an element of chance to the work.

‘Arp’s criteria in his search for form is often perceived as a kind of positive aimlessness. This was what led us to turn to a contemporary artist ‘for advice’, as it were, and incorporate a few of his works in the exhibition. Five sculptures by Franz West (1947 – 2012) are mixed in as visual footnotes to the works of Hans Arp. Most are examples of his so-called ‘Adaptives’, or ‘Fitting Pieces’. With them West makes it impossible to overlook the (seemingly) arbitrary aspect of form; these sculptures were intended to be used by viewers in combination with their own bodies as instruments for self-exploration.’ – Julian Heynen

In displaying Arp’s sculpture alongside his poetry and works by Franz West, this exhibition proposes a new examination of Arp’s art, where chance is viewed as an active component in the creation of both his sculptural and linguistic forms.

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About the artist

Hans Arp is a familiar figure of classical Modernism and was a key contributor in the development of Dada and Surrealism in the early twentieth century. Focusing his attention on everyday objects, Arp created his own unique ‘object language’ using a nonsensical…

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