This wonderful relief by Arp is sold to benefit the renovation of the Kunsthalle Basel, Switzerland, one of the world's most renowned and proactive public cultural institutions dedicated to the presentation of contemporary art. This will be the first major renovation of the premises since the Kunsthalle opened in its historic building in 1872.
This Arp was a gift from Dr Emmanuel Hoffmann who, as president of the Kunstverein, had inaugurated the first Arp exhibition at the Kunsthalle Basel in 1932.
"I allow myself to be guided by the work at the time of its birth, I have confidence in it. I don't reflect. The forms come, pleasing or strange, hostile, inexplicable, dumb or drowsy. They are born of themselves. It seems to me that I only have to move my hands. These lights, these shadows, that 'chance' sends us, should be welcomed by us with astonishment and gratitude. The 'chance', for example, that guides our fingers when we tear paper, the forms that then take shape, give us access to mysteries, reveal to us the profound sources of life... Very often, the colour which one selects blindly becomes the vibrant heart of the picture... It is sufficient to close one's eyes for the inner rhythm to pass into the hands with more purity. This transfer, this flux is still easier to control, to guide in a dark room. A great artist of the Stone Age knew how to conduct the thousands of voices that sang in him; he drew with his eyes turned inward" (J. Arp, Jours effeuillés. Poèmes, essais, souvenirs, 1920- 1965, Paris, 1966, pp. 435-6).
Configuration (Nach dem Gesetz des Zufalls geordnet Placée suivant la loi du hasard) is one of the finest of the wood reliefs that Arp made in the late 1920s and early 1930s. An elegant composition of typically amorphous forms, Configuration, with its four separate shades of black white and grey, is actually one of the most colouristically complex of Arp's works from these years. Executed in early 1932 it was made shortly before one of the most important exhibitions of Arp's work of these years, held at the Kunsthalle in Basel in June. At this exhibition Configuration, one of Arp's most newly completed works featured prominently. As a rare photograph shows, Configuration took pride of place hanging in the centre of one of the main walls, between two larger reliefs, Constellation de cravates et nombrils I (Constellation of bow-ties and navels I) of 1928 and Constellation placée selon les loies du hasard (Constellation placed according to the laws of chance) of 1929.
Consisting purely of simple forms derived, but not copied, from nature, Configuration conjures a sense of a magical world of natural growth held together through the pervasive harmony of its composition in a universal cosmic order. Arp's aesthetic aim was what he once described as "Construction in terms of lines, planes, shapes and colour (that,) despising artifice, presumption, imitation and the carnival tricks of the trade... aspire to the spiritual, to a mystical reality" (quoted in exh. cat., Arp, Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1958, p. 26.)
Looking like an imagined impression or a dream-image of a microscopic world of abundant amoebic life, reliefs like Configuration articulate a complete worldview. This is a vision of the world as a cosmic soup made up of living particles infused with a natural and spiritual order and rhythm through the creative energy an intuitive skill of the artist. Arp's creative search for a constructive order, his embracing of Nature and what he described as the "laws" of chance, was also a spiritual search. In his art, Arp's actions and decisions attempt to draw on the innate logic and patterns of nature, thus to some extent emulating the "hand" of a divine Creator. As Arp pointed out early in his career, he did not wish to work "from Nature" as so many artists had before him, but instead tried "to be natural". "I made my first experiments with free forms," he explained of what was to become a consistent aesthetic. "I looked for new constellations of form such as nature never stops producing. I tried to make forms grow. I put my trust in the example of seeds, stars, clouds, plants, animals, men, and finally my own innermost being" (quoted in ibid).