Please note this painting is accompanied by a fascinating original correspondance between the artist and Dr. Erlenmeyer, who acquired the relief directly from him.
"The forms that I created between 1927 and 1948 and that I called Cosmic Forms were vast forms, meant to englobe a multitude of forms such as: the egg, the planetary orbit, the path of the planets, the bud, the human head, the breasts, the sea shell, the waves, the bell. I constellated these forms 'according to the laws of chance.' I unconsciously obeyed a law that has now become a supreme law. I used the name 'according to the laws of chance' naively without realising that this was a law englobing Planck's law of cause and effect. These cosmic forms seemed mute because their language goes beyond the waves perceptible to man." (Arp, 'Forms', M.Jean (ed.), Jean (Hans) Arp, Collected French Writings, Poems, Essays, Memories, Zurich 1963, p.274).
Executed in 1932, Maskenspiel ('A Game with Masks') is an elegant and playful semi-abstract relief whose composition was made largely "according to the laws of chance." This element of Arp's aesthetic relates strongly to the automatism advocated by the Surrealists with whom Arp was closely associated during the early 1930s. However, whereas the Surrealists perceived "chance" as the manifestation of man's unconscious will, for Arp, who had been one of the first artists to incorporate "the law" of chance into his work during the Dada period in Zurich, it reflected the underlying law of nature. Arp was always interested in organic form, and his close association with the Surrealists in the late 1920s and early 1930s encouraged him to develop a new informality with regard to a conscious disposition of the forms of his reliefs.
In Maskenspiel, Arp has employed this informality to express the fluidity of the continuous transformations that one finds in nature and which he believed formed part of the immutable order of the cosmos. The harmonic interplay of the cell-like forms of the work has been divided between a positive mass and a negative space; a feature of the work that is further emphasised by his polemical proportioning of black and white colour. Through such simple means, Arp attempts to express in visual form the law that unifies all natural processes and at the same time show that the same basic laws are fundamental to the process of artistic creation. "Art is a fruit that grows in man, like a fruit on a plant, or a child in its mothers womb," he asserted, "I believe that nature is not in opposition to art. Art is of natural origin and is sublimated and spiritualised through the sublimation of man." (Arp, On My Way 1948, cited in op.cit., p.241).
The biomorphic shapes in Maskenspiel are amoeba-like forms that through their whimsical and seemingly un-arranged composition on the picture plane generate a sense of play. This element is reinforced by the title, which refers to a game. In this way Arp bestows his work with a primitive and childish simplicity, expressed through archetypal forms which he believed were part of "a return to an essential order, to harmony, [that] is needed to save the world from everlasting confusion." (Arp in On My Way, 1948, cited in B.Rau (ed.), Hans Arp, Die Reliefs Oeuvre Katalog, Stuttgart 1981, p.XXIII).