Jean (Hans) Arp (1886-1966)
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Jean (Hans) Arp (1886-1966)

Balcon I

Jean (Hans) Arp (1886-1966)
Balcon I
oil on cut-out board in the artist's painted frame
Board: 29¼ x 41¼ in. (74.5 x 105 cm.);
With the artist's frame: 32¼ x 44¼ in. (82 x 112.5 cm.)
Painted in 1925
Galerie de Beaune, Paris.
Walter P. Chrysler Jr., New York; sale, Parke Bernet, New York, 1945, lot 124.
Zoe Dusanne Gallery, Seattle.
Grosvenor Gallery, London.
Galleria Arturo Schwarz, Milan.
Galeria Tarica, Paris.
Hubertus Wald, Hamburg, by whom acquired from the above in June 1972.
B. Rau, Hans Arp. Die Reliefs. Oeuvre-Katalog, Stuttgart, 1981, no. 72, p. 42 (illustrated).
Richmond, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, The Collection of Walter P. Chrysler Jr., January - March 1941, no. 8; this exhibition later travelled to Philadelphia, Museum of Art, March - May 1941.
New York, Sidney Janis Gallery, Jean Arp, April - May 1963, no. 30 (illustrated).
New York, Sidney Janis Gallery, Arp, March - April 1968, no. 39.
Los Angeles, UCLA Art Galleries, Jean Arp, November - December 1968; this exhibition later travelled to Des Moines, Art Center; and Dallas, Museum of Fine Art.
New York, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Jean Arp (1886-1966): a retrospective exhibition, May - June 1969 (illustrated).
Münster, Westfälisches Landesmuseum für Kunst und Kulturgeschichte, Reliefs : Formprobleme zwischen Malerei und Skulptur im 20. Jahrhundert, June - August 1980, no. 66; this exhibition later travelled to Zurich, Kunsthaus, August - November 1980.
Stuttgart, Württembergischer Kunstverein, Arp, 1886-1966, July - August 1986, no. 94, p. 106 (illustrated); this exhibition later travelled to Strasbourg, Musée d'art moderne, September - November 1986; Paris, Musée d'art moderne de la Ville de Paris, December 1986 - February 1987; Minneapolis, Institute of Art, March - May 1987; Boston, Museum of Fine Arts, July - September 1987; and San Francisco, Museum of Modern Art, December 1987 - January 1988.
Munich, Haus der Kunst, Elan vital, oder, Das Auge des Eros: Kandinsky, Klee, Arp, Miró, Calder, May - August 1994.
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Adrienne Dumas
Adrienne Dumas

Lot Essay

Balcon I (Balcony I) is an important and relatively colourful relief made by Arp in 1925. Painted on board that has been cut-out or perforated with an oval aperture so that this seemingly flat work becomes a multi-dimensional relief, Balcon I is the first of two works depicting a strange sperm/egglike universe of abstract form. Both these works eloquently articulate the marriage of nature and abstraction that Arp developed in the mid-1920s into an essentially poetic and almost mystic form of construction.

Arp's reliefs of the 1920s signify one of the most dramatic stylistic changes in his art. Having understood the 'law' of chance during the Dada years in Zurich to be but a part of the laws of Nature he began to revere it as an ultimate standard of spiritual truth. As a consequence, he then made a conscious move away from the harsh, rigid logic of his geometric abstraction and sought to impregnate the forms of his art with Nature's rhythm, energy and spirit.

Arp's relationship with Sophie Täuber reinforced his belief that it was primarily abstract art that could incorporate what he described as 'extravisual' meanings of the greatest importance, for in her often austere art he also saw her inner serenity and humility emanating. Similarly, when he abandoned geometric abstraction he continued to embrace the flatness, clarity, impersonal finish and abstraction of his earlier works because he felt these elements corresponded to the moral values he required of his essentially non-materialistic art. And it was these qualities he retained when he attempted to unify abstraction with naturalness in what came to be known as his 'Earthly Forms' - loosely geometric shapes such as the fluid or agitated ovals (bewegte Ovale) around which the composition of this work is based. Energising the oval with a natural irregularity lent these forms an organic appearance that in turn evokes the possibility of growth, metamorphosis and development. Arp's intention was to create, what he described as 'Sinnbild der ewigen Verwandlung in der Natur' (emblems of the perpetual transformations occurring in Nature).

In Balcon I, a multidimensional energy between the abstract form and space of the relief sets up a biomorphic-like fusion of elements all colliding and vying with one another with an undeniable energy that evokes not just the rhythms of nature but also, seemingly, a conjunction of sperm and egg. Symbols of birth, metamorphosis, growth and regeneration, sperm and eggs, were, like navels, familiar emblems in Arp's art that, though partially abstract, convey within themselves the innate potential for development. Natural, organic and perpetually evolving, they are ideal images for Arp's own evolving organic language of abstraction.

Arp's involvement with the Surrealist group also played a significant role in the development of this new organic abstraction. While he insisted on remaining only loosely affiliated to the group and in the late 1930s and would later criticise its overt embracing of politics and their rejection of abstract art, the Surrealists use of poetry as a means of exploring the unconscious had a major influence on Arp. Likening his own work to dreams, Arp who followed Novalis in believing dreams to be the source of creative inspiration, was encouraged by the Surrealists to delve further in order to discover the hidden beauty and meaning of his dreams and his art which Arp himself referred to as 'dreamed plastic works'.

'In 1925 I exhibited at the first Surrealist group show and contributed to their magazines. They encouraged me to ferret out the dream, the idea behind my plastic work, and to give it a name. For many years, roughly from the end of 1919 to 1931, I interpreted most of my works. Often the interpretation was more important to me than the work itself. Often it was hard to render the content in rational words... (the) titles were often abbreviated little stories such as this one for 'Mountain - Table - Anchors - Navel' in my book Unser täglicher Traum (Our daily Dream) : A dreamer can make eggs as big as houses dance, bundle up flashes of lightning, and make an enormous mountain, dreaming of a navel and two anchors, hover over a poor enfeebled table that looks like the mummy of a goat. In the end my names for my plastic works gave rise to poems' (Arp, 'Looking', quoted in James Thrall Soby, ed., Arp, exh. cat., New York, 1958, p. 14).

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