This work is registered at the Archives Denyse Durand-Ruel under no. 2479 and will be included in the forthcoming catalogue raisonné being prepared by Denyse Durand-Ruel.
Executed in 1966, Antoine et Cléopâtre displays the shattered remains of a pair of cellos. This is an iconoclastic assault on art and on culture, Arman destroying the classical instruments and pinning them up as trophies to his destructive and rebellious will.
Rather than represent the world, Arman has taken these cellos and directly placed them within a frame - within an artistic context. This was the crux of his Nouveau Réalisme: the use of real materials, the celebration of the world of objects. Arman, both in his accumulations of many similar objects and in his destruction of others, reorders reality. This is a new form of Surrealism, wherein our understanding and appreciation of the world and objects around us is jarred by seeing them from a new perspective. These musical instruments have been smashed to pieces, and in pieces they demand that we do not take them for granted. Deprived of their ability to create music, our awareness of their status as musical instruments is heightened.
As well as forcing us to reevaluate our understanding of the cellos, Arman demands that we reevaluate our understanding of art. The transformative power of the artist is both flaunted and questioned by Arman's destruction and vandalism, which in his hands becomes an act of creation. At the same time, this destruction is an attack on the materialistic culture of the world of capitalism, Arman showing the damage that lies in the wake of the relentless monster of consumerism. In addition to this political content, in Arman's hands the process of destruction is also unambiguously one of aesthetics, of presenting the cellos in mad and glorious splendour spread across and contrasting against their support. There is a beguiling exuberance in these remains and in the implied action, the frenetic energies that must have been exerted by Arman in smashing them, a strange and entertaining counterpoint to the actions of the Abstract Expressionists. There is likewise both poignancy and humour in the title of this piece, relating the two destroyed cellos to the tragic lovers of history. It is, the now songless musical instruments imply, the end of an old song.