Arman, his actual name was Armand Pierre Fernandez, was born in 1928, in Nice. After finishing school, he enrolled at the École Nationale Supérieure des Arts Décoratifs and finished his studies in 1949. During this time, he met Yves Klein and, like Klein, became interested in Eastern philosophy. He especially focused on Buddhism and astrology as well as the mystical tradition of the 17th-century Rosicrucians. Together with Klein and Claude Pascal, Arman embarked on a journey through Europe in 1947.
Despite his artistic interests, Arman initially decided to become an auctioneer. After leaving Nice, he started studying archaeology and Oriental art at the École du Louvre in Paris. However, during this time he also worked on paintings that were strongly influenced by Surrealism. Soon his art came to be increasingly shaped by new, realist tendencies, a development that was also initiated by his getting to know art critic Pierre Restany in 1951. In 1952 Arman’s work as an artist was interrupted by his military service in what was then French Indochina. He returned to Nice a year later and new points of artistic reference gained importance: He became involved with African art. Yet with his more abstract works, Arman also drew on the paintings of Serge Poliakoff, Nicolas de Staëls, as well as on Jackson Pollock’s »All-Over« technique.
Having seen an exhibition by Kurt Schwitters in Paris, Arman started doing Cachets: stamp imprints and stamp pictures that he presented to the public for the first time in 1956. In 1958 he took up this artist name »Arman« and showed his work together with Klein in an exhibition entitled »Le Vide.« Yet one year later, he turned away from painting entirely. The Allures d’objets, imprints of dyed objects on canvas and paper, emerged, along with the so-called Poubelles, boxes of Plexiglas with encased refuse, and the Accumulations, presenting the accumulation of alike objects deprived of their function. Arman was equally concerned with material and with its structure. He used things found: refuse, everyday objects, and objects of consumption and then structured and arranged them according to his own principles. His work is therefore closely related to that of César, e. g. to the latter’s car wrecks and metal pieces compressed into cubic shapes (Compression). Causing quite a stir, Arman’s room filled with garbage was presented in 1960 at the Galerie Iris Clert in Paris. However, more pictorial objects emerged in 1962, among them Chopin’s Waterloo, a formation of shattered piano parts. The assemblages of destroyed or cut-up and sequentially arranged music instruments (Colère de Violon / Anger ofViolin) which Arman kept varying in multiple ways were important also for the artist’s later work.
Along with Klein, Daniel Spoerr, Jacques Villeglé, Raymond Hains, François Dufrêne, Martial Raisse, and Jean Tinguely, Arman was also co-founder of the movement »Les Nouveaux Réalistes,« in 1960. The movement dedicated itself to a new approximation of perception to the real, its theoretician being Pierre Restany. In Paris, Arman then met American artists Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg. Moreover, he made contact with the larger circle of the Group ZERO, and soon also with Marcel Duchamp.
In the Actions which Arman did in the early 1960s together with Klein, but also in the Colères / Fits of Rage, or the Coupes / Cuttings that followed, object- and material-related elements remained important. Yet through the immediacy of Actions and their presentation, of staged destructions, detonations or burnings (Combustions) and their subsequent exhibition, his work now acquired a more performative character. Starting in 1964, the Inclusions were developed as quasi-synthesis of material objects and Actions. Here, Arman cast the Accumulations of various objects in polyester or Plexiglas. Finally, he cast them in concrete, so that they were no longer accessible to the gaze (Le cor de l’un, le cor de l’autre / The Horn of One, the Horn of the Other, 1971/74). The Inclusions demonstrate the elementary importance of material, its specific qualities and functions, as well as an emergence of form that depended on the specific Actions.
After his first exhibitions, among them the garbage rooms in Paris in the late 1950s and the object accumulations of the late 1960s (World Fair Montréal, 1967), the boundary between exhibition and Action in Arman’s public appearances increasingly disappeared. The public cutting-up of objects (Slicing, 1970, Reese Palley Gallery, New York) was one of these new forms of presentation. But so were Happenings, e. g., Conscious Vandalism, the staged destruction of a New York middle-class residence in New York that had been furnished for the occasion. As in the 1950s (Turkey, Afghanistan, Iran), Arman kept embarking on extended journeys motivated by his interest in Middle- and Far-Eastern art and culture. In 1967 he accepted a position at the University of California, Los Angeles, where he taught until 1968. In 1975, he traveled through Egypt and shortly afterwards through the People’s Republic of China and the USSR.
In the 1980s Arman’s accumulations of objects and material grew more monumental. The installation Long Term Parking (1982), on which Arman worked for six years, was placed in the palace garden of Montcel in Jouy-en-Josas and contained 60 cars enclosed in 2000 tons of concrete. Another example is Ascent of the Blues(1987), again shown in public space, in Memphis, Tennessee. It is a double spiral of pianos, guitars, and banjos, 12 meters high.
With his return to painting in 1988, Arman’s artistic strategies changed once again. While his gestural paintings draw on his earlier painterly approaches, they are sometimes also extended into assemblages through integrating the tools of painting. Large-format pictures and picture walls (Musée des Beaux-Arts in Nîmes) then opened up the repertoire to include spatially oriented concepts. Still, the engagement with destroyed objects was kept up until the 1990s, e. g. in the composer portraits made of musical instruments in 1991.
Since his first solo exhibitions in the late 1950s (Galerie du Haut-Pavé, Paris 1956), Arman’s works have been shown in many international contexts. Arman participated in the Documenta in 1964, 1968, and 1977, and in the Venice Biennale in 1968. Comprehensive retrospectives took place at the Sprengel-Museum, Hanover, at the Hessisches Landesmuseum, Darmstadt (both in 1982), and at the Galerie Nationale du Jeu de Paume in Paris (1998). In 2000 the Museum Ludwig in Cologne dedicated a retrospective to Arman’s works on paper. Moreover, in the late 1990s, Dominique Rimbault did his filmic portrait of the artist (»Arman, Portrait d’un sculpteur« / »Arman, Portrait of a Sculptor,« 1997), with Arman and Pierre Restany both participating. More recently, a large exhibition was dedicated to the Nouveau Réalisme (2007). and Arman may well be considered the movement’s most important representative.
Arman, who had held U.S. citizenship since the 70s died on October 22, 2005, in New York.
Nouveau Réalisme, Revolution des Alltäglichen: Ausst.-Kat. Sprengel Museum, Ostfildern-Ruit 2007
Arman 1918 — 2005, Collection Jean Ferrero: Ausst.-Kat. Centre d’Art La Malmaison, hg. v. F. Ballester. Cannes 2006
Arman, Werke auf Papier: Ausst.-Kat. Ludwig-Museum im Deutschherrenhaus, Koblenz, hg. v. B. Reifenscheid, Bielefeld 2001
Arman: Ausst.-Kat. Wilhelm-Hack-Museum, Ludwigshafen u.a., Ostfildern-Ruit 1998
Zero und Paris 1960: Ausst.-Kat. Villa Merklingen, Musée d’Art Moderne et d’Art Contemporain, Nizza, hg. v. R. Damsch-Wiehager, Ostfildern-Ruit 1997