Hans Arp was born on September 16, 1886, in Strasbourg, Alsace. In 1904 he became a student at the local Arts-and-Crafts school, and from 1905 — 07 he studied in Weimar with Ludwig von Hofmann who introduced him to Impressionism and Art Nouveau. In 1908 Arp studied in Paris at the Académie Julian. He became a co-founder of the Zurich group of painters called »Der moderne Bund« (»The Modern Alliance«) in 1911. In the same year, he also met Kandinsky. In 1912 Arp exhibited his work together with the group »The Blue Rider« and came to know Robert Delauney and his specific reception of Cubism. Moreover, during that time, Arp also focused on Kandinsky’s »concrete« abstraction.
Throughout these years, Arp moved back and forth between Cologne, Paris, Zurich, and Berlin. In Berlin he exhibited his work in Herwarth Walden’s gallery »Der Sturm« and for a while also worked for the newspaper of the same name. At the 1914 exhibition of the German »Werkbund« in Cologne he met Max Ernst. From his stays in Paris he knew Max Jacob, Apollinaire, Modigliani, and Picasso. His first solo exhibition, consisting of collages and tapestries, was shown in Zurich, at the Galerie Tanner. There, Arp befriended Sophie Taeubner with whom he collaborated extensively (Duo-Collagen and Duo-Zeichnungen / Duo-Drawings). In 1922 the two artists married. Meanwhile, Arp was also an active member of the Dada-Movement in Cologne and Zurich. He had co-founded the Zurich movement together with Hugo Ball, Richard Huelsenbeck, and Tristan Tzara at the Cabaret Voltaire in 1916. During that year he did his first painted wooden reliefs and cardboard reliefs as well as material collages of paper and various kinds of cloth. His fellow members of the Dada group in Cologne were Johannes T. Baargeld and Max Ernst. Arp thus participated in the entire spectrum of the international Dada movement. Moreover, he came to know Kurt Schwitters and, in 1919, became interested in the work of constructivist El Lissitzky.
Arp’s poem »Die Wolkenpumpe« / »The Cloud Pump« was written in 1920, in Paris. From then on, Arp worked as painter, sculptor, and poet. After collaborating again with Eluard, Ernst, and Tzara, his work was shown at the international Dada exhibition in Paris. Arp then published his 7 Arpaden at Schwitters’ MERZ-Verlag in Hanover. Not quite as consistent as Schwitters’ MERZ-Bildwelt Arp’s visual world relates to Arpaden or Arpadien. It is no coincidence that the name Arp chose for his world of forms and shapes alliterates with the pagan-utopian Arcadia (German: »Arkadien«) which artists since Poussin have tried, again and again, to approach through painting. In 1966 Arp very explicitly commented on the autonomy of his Arpadian / Arcadian world of images: »I wanted to find a different order, a different value of the human being in nature. … All things as well as humans were supposed to be like nature, without measure. I wanted to create new images, new forms, out of the human being.« These »new forms« manifest themselves in relief pictures that Arp framed and thus delimited himself. The pictures provide in themselves a consistent synthesis of concrete abstraction, of the technique of making collages, and of the deconstructive intention of Dada. They also integrate the artistic worldview of Surrealism and the compositional calculation of the Constructivists. The painterly was of less importance for Arp. He often painted his relief pictures in sharp color contrasts (black/white, black/yellow, or green/yellow).
With his monochrome relief pictures that show the distinct shadows of the elevated forms, Arp made a decisive entry into the realm of abstraction. Arpadien consists of swelling and receding biomorphic forms. Sometimes the relief figure itself is at the center of the picture, sometimes that position is taken up by the painted main figure of a relief picture, and the figure is applied with smooth strokes. In accordance with his statement, Arp always succeeds to create within his stage boxes a wilfully moving theatrical activity, cleverly directed through its composition. With his papiers déchirés, his manually torn paper, Arp developed a new collage technique in 1930. During the same year, he created the first three-dimensional, freestanding sculptures that would dominate his later work. How intensely cooperative and synthesizing Arp’s approach was, is demonstrated by his membership in various groups during the years 1930/32: He was a member of the Paris Surrealists, the »Cercle et Carré,« also based in Paris, and the »abstraction – création, art non figuratif« in Meudon, where he settled in 1926.
Arp spent the time of the German occupation and the war years in southern France (1940) and in Basel and Zurich (1942). In 1946 he returned to Meudon. The post-war years are characterized by his creation of monumental freestanding sculptures, by international commissioned work, and by exhibitions (1949, first exhibition at the Buchholz Gallery, New York). At the 1954 Venice Biennale, he was awarded the Grand Prize for Sculpture. In 1955, a retrospective on the work of Arp and Sophie Taeubner-Arp toured Germany as a travelling exhibition. It was followed by a large exhibition of Arp’s work at the Museum of Modern Art, New York. In 1962, the city of Paris honored him with a retrospective.
Hans Arp died on June 7, 1966, in Basel.
Hans Arp, Fritz Winter: Dialog ohne Begegnung: Ausst.-Kat. Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlung, München, hg. v. K. Klingsöhr-Leroy, Köln 2008
Licht auf Arp. Hans Arp und Sophie Taeubner-Arp: Ausst.-Kat. Stiftung Bahnhof Rolandseck, hg. v. K. Gallwitz, Düsseldorf 2008
Suter, R.: Hans Arp: Weltbild und Kunstauffassung im Spätwerk, Bern 2007
Hans Arp: die Natur der Dinge: Ausst.Kat. Stiftung Bahnhof Rolandseck, hg. v. K. Gallwitz, Düsseldorf 2007
Robertson, E.: Arp, Painter, Poet, Sculptor, New Haven 2006
Schwitters – Arp: Ausst.-Kat. Kunstmuseum Basel, hg. v. H. Fischer, Ostfildern-Ruit 2004
Rau, B.: Hans Arp. Die Reliefs, Oeuvrekatalog, Stuttgart 1981
Jean, M. (Hg.): Arp on Arp – poems, essays, memoires by Jean Arp, New York 1972