Hans Arp

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Hans Arp, 1926.
Born September 16, 1886(1886-09-16)
Strasbourg, German Empire (today France)
Died June 7, 1966(1966-06-07) (aged 79)
Basel, Switzerland
Web UbuWeb Sound, Dada Companion, Wikipedia
Collections MoMA
Hans Arp, Hans Richter and Tristan Tzara in Zurich, 1917.

Hans Arp, or Jean Arp (1886–1966) was a German-French, or Alsatian, sculptor, painter, poet and abstract artist in other media such as torn and pasted paper. Arp was a founding member of the Dada movement in Zürich in 1916.

Life and work[edit]

Hans Arp was born in the city of Strasbourg in Alsace, a region between France and Germany that for centuries was contested territory. As the son of a German father and a French Alsatian mother, Arp received German and French given names. Called both Hans Peter Wilhelm and Jean Pierre Guillaume, he grew up speaking French, German, and the Alsatian dialect. Between 1900 and 1908, he studied art at the Strasbourg School of Arts and Crafts, the Weimar Academy of Art, and the Académie Julian in Paris but was dissatisfied with the academic and tedious instruction. After his family moved to Weggis, Switzerland, in 1906, Arp spent several years there writing and drawing in isolation, interrupted only by brief trips to Paris.

In 1910 Arp began to establish contacts with artists he had met in Paris and cofounded the Moderner Bund, an exhibition society for Swiss modern artists. He also traveled widely, establishing connections with artists and writers in Paris, the expressionist Blaue Reiter group headed by Vasily Kandinsky in Munich, and Herwarth Walden's Sturm (The Storm) Gallery and magazine in Berlin. As a result of these contacts, several of his drawings were published in the Blaue Reiter Almanach in 1912, and he was employed by Walden to organize exhibitions and write reviews in Berlin. These experiences were formative to Arp's artistic development; among the Zurich dadaists, Arp was the most knowledgeable about modern art movements.

Arp was in Cologne when Germany declared war on France. He took one of the last trains to Paris to escape the draft and lived there for about a year in the artists' and poets' enclave of Montmartre. After he was arrested by the Paris police and investigated for espionage, he was advised to leave France immediately. On his entry into Switzerland, he was sent to the German consulate in Zurich to be conscripted, a fate he avoided by feigning mental illness.

After arriving in Switzerland, Arp went to Arthur Segal's house in Ascona, where he soon struck up a close working relationship with Otto and Adya van Rees, a Dutch couple who were also taking refuge in Switzerland from the war. With Otto van Rees, Arp designed and painted a mural for a children's school in Ascona. For Arp, these artistic collaborations, which he described as analogous to the workshops of the Middle Ages, were an important way of counteracting the isolating effects of modernity.

His most important collaborator was Sophie Taeuber, whom he met in 1915 and married in 1922. Taeuber influenced Arp to begin working with unconventional materials and techniques; in Arp's words, the two of them "embroidered, wove, painted, and pasted static geometric pictures." For Arp, using new materials meant rejecting tradition, and working in techniques considered "applied" rather than fine art opened up new artistic possibilities. He was also intent on eradicating the traces of human personality from his work. In their "duo-collages," he and Taeuber used a paper cutter instead of scissors to eliminate the trace of the artist's hand. By overcoming the constraints of tradition and individual subjectivity, Arp hoped to "approach the pure radiance of reality."

As he continued to develop his collage works, he abandoned the strict geometrical regularity of his early work with Taeuber and explored the operation of chance and the generation of abstract forms through observations of nature. Sketching with India ink on the shores of the lake at Ascona, Arp made drawings of rocks, broken branches, roots, and grass. By simplifying these forms and transposing them into three dimensions, he created a series of abstract reliefs composed of irregularly shaped, brightly painted pieces of wood. Arp called these reliefs "Earthly Forms," suggesting both their relation to organic life and their abstraction. By locating the source of abstraction in nature, which for him was imbued with spiritual meaning, Arp sought to create an art that could act as a cultural restorative for an age brutalized by the unchecked development of rationalized technology, represented for him, as for the other dadaists in Zurich, by the horrific events of World War I.

When the war ended, Arp was able to reestablish the international contacts that had been so important to him prior to 1914. In Cologne he formed a Dada collaborative with Johannes Baargeld and Max Ernst, contributing poetic texts to the collages of Ernst. Later he became aligned with Dada in Paris, and his work became more figurative. The reliefs from this period parody everyday objects, which are made absurd by overt simplification of their forms. When Paris fell to the Germans in 1940, Arp and Taeuber were forced to seek refuge in the south of France. Taeuber's accidental death in 1943 devastated Arp, and he never quite recovered. He wrote scores of poems dedicated to her memory and insisted on the continued importance of her work, which he had exhibited alongside his own on many occasions. In 1945 Arp asked Marguerite Hagenbach, a mutual friend of his and Taeuber's, to become his companion; they were married in 1959. Eventually Arp returned to sculpture, and in his later years received numerous exhibitions and prizes. In 1966 he was honored by the installation of his memorial plaque to Dada (a white marble relief with a gilded navel) on the façade of the former Cabaret Voltaire in Zurich. (Source)


  • with El Lissitzky, Die Kunstismen / Les ismes de l'art / The Isms of Art: 1914-1924, Erlenbach-Zürich: Eugen Rentsch, 1925, xi+48 pp, PDF, PDF, Yale, KHZ; repr., New York: Arno, 1968; repr., Baden: Lars Müller, 1990, xi+48 pp. The book gives short definitions by well-known artists of the various movements of the period followed by reproductions illustrating each of them. WP, Reprint 1990. (German)/(French)/(English)
    • "Umelecké izmy", trans. P.H., Slovenské pohľady 81:10, 1965, p 42. (Slovak)
  • Elemente, Zürich: Karl Schmid, 1949, [40] pp, KHZ. (German)
  • Unsern täglichen Traum. Erinnerungen, Dichtungen und Betrachtungen aus den Jahren 1914-1954, Zürich: Die Arche, 1955; repr., 1995. (German)
  • Jours Effeuillés, Paris: Gallimard, 1966. (French)
  • Sfinga ruža, trans. Ivan Kupec, Bratislava: Slovenský spisovateľ, 1968, 188 pp. (Slovak)
  • Arp on Arp: Poems, Essays, Memories, ed. Marcel Jean, New York: Viking Press, 1972. Based on the 1966 collection in French. (English)


See also[edit]