|Amateur, Accumulator,Collector, Connoisseur
by Jacques Kerchache
"My dialogue with African art derives from the conviction that artistic creation arises from a common fund of
humanity and that in the discovery of aesthetic solutions the making of masterpieces supersedes regions,
cultures, and becomes part of the treasures from all places and all times of human creation."
It was on an evening in 1962, in Iris Clert's old gallery, at the closing of one of my first exhibitions, bringing
together works from Pol Bury, Sotto, Cruz Diez and Kramer, Arman walked in, and caressed the walls. He told me
that it was very good to have kept them as they were, painted in white by Yves Klein, his best friend who had just
died tragically. While Klein figured "the empty," in the same space Arman was a little later to echo a reply in "the
full," saturating the space with an accumulation of refuse.
I spoke to him of my projects: a presentation of white foodstuffs from Malaval which was to precede an exhibition
devoted to Sepik objects from New Guinea. The immediate current of fellow-feeling that was established between
us has evolved over thirty-five years of friendship—one peppered with rows, dialogues, breaks, exchanges and
In 1955, the year when I bought my first object at the flea market, Arman discovered two exhibitions that were to
mark him deeply: the one, organized by Ratton and Kramer, the other, Analogies, at the Arnaud Gallery. In 1956
or 1957, he made his first purchase, a Dan mask.
Shortly after our encounter, I left on military service to Frejus. Arman invited me to his home, on the Cote d'Azur,
and let me see his atelier where I was impressed and enthused by his work. In the years that followed, we had
our first exchange of works: one of his shattered violins in plastic for a Mahongwe reliquary. When Andre Breton
later paid me a visit, on seeing the violin he remarked: "That's the way I like music!"
This was also the start of a long series of trades and reciprocal purchases. Between Arman and myself, there is
a mutual respect, and I have too much admiration for artists to propose to him that which he calls in his Memoires
accumulees "artist's pieces": "The dealers in Black art are all collectors of modern art. Living surrounded by
somber objects, they long for color. So, in Paris, a certain X. and Y. wish to trade. Each time I arrive, they receive
me with joy and show me, they say, their most interesting pieces. 'Look, a curious Cameroun mask!—Are you
kidding me, it's not even from Cameroon, I say—You think so? Well anyway, come and take a look at this Dogon.
—Me: It's poorly sculpted, it's no Dogon.-After awhile Y. gets upset:—We can't do business with you. You
denigrate everything.—Because you show me crap! (yours truly retorts).—But not at all (he protests), we've put
these pieces aside especially for you, they're artist's pieces. —Well bravo! That's fine. All the junk, the
unclassifiable, the problem objects, the murky ones: these are your artist's pieces!' So many of my fellow
painters have fallen for this line, and wound up with what otherwise are unsaleable specimens, somewhat
belated, barely or poorly sculpted. I never fell for it." Here Arman cites the case of one of our mutual friends, the
painter Jean-Claude Fahri. I well remember that at the inauguration of his atelier, he showed us a Senufo
sculpture. Arman and I looked at each other. Without having to exchange a word, but with common purpose, we
threw the object into the fire. After a few seconds, we pulled it out, saying: "It's better like this."
From Gauguin, Derain, Vlaminck, Picasso and up to Baselitz, Arman is without doubt the artist who has accorded
the most of his time, effort and energy to the constituting of his remarkable collections, and his collection of
African art in particular.
There was not a single important exhibition in a museum or at a dealer's, or private collection, that he did not
visit. He might get a call in New York about an object of possible interest, and next thing he was on the plane.
This frenzy reached its height between 1975 and 1980. I spent some time at Arman's during this period. He met
everyday with a great number of dealers, collectors, museum directors, not to show his own work, but to
evaluate, buy, sell, or render his expert opinion on objects of African art. I was able to make the observation that
the time he devoted to this part of his life had a negative effect on his creative activities. He well understood this,
and once remarked to his wife: "Am I a sculptor, or a specialist in African art? I suppose one should know, right?"
Arman more shares the detached point of view that Picasso proclaimed with irony: "L'art negre, connais pas!",
than that of Brancusi, conscious of a hold that he defended himself against in writing to Epstein in 1932: "One
must not be influenced by African art."
Arman's oeuvre precedes his encounter with African art, and if there's a similarity, then it's in the manner of a
"play on words, play on forms." We can cite an example of this in his accumulation of revolvers entitled "Fetiche
a clous," which I placed face to face with a real fetiche a clous, for the Primitivism exhibition in Munich in 1972, to
which I was consultant.
The relationship that exists between the oeuvre of Arman and African art is based only on what Appolinaire
called "the aesthetic of the banal object" when discussing the guitar (1911) or the glass of absinthe (1914) of
Picasso, and the act of appropriation/reincorporation, a common practice among African artists. The
accumulation of appropriations: Arman's identity may be so summarized. But I no longer agree with him when he
amuses himself by leading African objects astray by encasing them in plastic, even if in these cases he uses
only minor objects. Neither can I say that I'm particularly touched by the result, though I well understanding that it
has to do with a pretext, and treated with much humor. On the other hand, I what I do find extremely interesting,
is the presentation of them at Arman's home—series of object from the same family (Kota, Fang, etc.)—for
these accumulation then permit one to appreciate the value of the notion of competition, something dear to
The spirit of competition is also not found lacking in Arman. And he has practiced it in disciplines as varied as
judo, ping-pong, chess and go. He's proved it, too, in his accumulation of other collections, always of great
quality: Japanese weapons and armor, Oceanic objects, knives, pens, watches, guns, cars, contemporary art...
Nonetheless, over the past few years he has understood that by breaking them up, he could acquire works of
true importance. It required a choice on his part, and he decided to concentrate his attention and financial
means on African art. Arman has never tipped over into primitivism, he's never been a speculator. He is an
Amateur, in the noble sense of the term. Today, his collection figures among the most beautiful in the world. It is
not encyclopedic, and even less exotic. It is impregnated with a strong identity. It has a history because it has
been made with love, passion and generosity.
|Interview - Arman Armand
New York, December 2nd, 1995
by Alain Nicolas
From the book on Arman's collection: African Faces, African Figures
CLICK HERE to go to the text from the interview
|Images from the
Arman Collection of African Art
from the book
"African Faces, African Figures: The Arman Collection"
Fang byeri figures
Fang nlo-byeri heads
|Arman, 76, Found-Object Sculptor, Dies
By KEN JOHNSON
Published: October 24, 2005 - NY Times
Arman, the French sculptor known internationally for his surprising accumulations of trash and found
objects, died Saturday at his home in New York. He was 76.
The cause was cancer, said his wife, Corice Canton Arman.
A founding member of the Nouveau Réalistes, a group that included Yves Klein, Daniel Spoerri and
Jean Tinguely, Arman made his mark in the 1960's. For a famous exhibition in 1960 at the Iris Clert
Gallery in Paris he responded to Klein's exhibition "La Vide" ("The Void"), which consisted of an entirely
empty gallery, by filling the gallery floor to ceiling with rubbish and calling it "Le Plein" ("Full Up").
Arman went on to create accumulations of all kinds of objects, from partly squeezed-out paint tubes
immersed in cast plastic to a 106-foot-high stack of military vehicles embedded in concrete, in Beirut;
called "Hope for Peace," that 1995 work was commissioned by the government of Lebanon. He made
sculptures out of everything from buttons to typewriters, musical instruments, car parts and bicycles, and
he manipulated them in all sorts of ways - sometimes violently, as in works that involved dissection,
burning and exploding, and sometimes by creating elegantly patterned arrangements.
Like the found-object works of Marcel Duchamp, those of Arman challenge conventional notions about
the nature of art. And like the serialized Pop Art works of Andy Warhol, they reflect anxieties about social
issues like consumerism, waste and individuality in a society of mass production.
Arman was also an avid collector of art and antiques, from knives to jukeboxes. His collections of
Japanese arms and armor and of African art have been exhibited in museums around the world.
Armand Pierre Fernandez was born on Nov. 17, 1928, in Nice in the south of France. (A printer's error
prompted him to drop the d from his name in 1958.) His father, an antiques dealer, was an amateur
painter and musician, and Arman began painting as a child. After earning a baccalaureate in philosophy
and mathematics in 1946 he began to study painting at the École Nationale d'Art Décoratif in Nice,
where he met Klein. Later he studied archaeology and Asian art at the École du Louvre.
Arman made Surrealistic paintings in the 40's and moved on to abstraction in the 50's. An exhibition of
works by Kurt Schwitters inspired his lifelong interest in assemblage, and he began to produce his
accumulations of trash and found objects in the late 50's.
In 1951 Arman became a teacher at the Bushido Kai Judo School in Madrid, and in the early 50's he
served for two years as a medical orderly in the French army in Vietnam.
Arman had his first solo exhibitions in London and Paris in 1956, and he was later included in many
important international exhibitions, including the Venice Biennale and Documenta 4 in Kassel, Germany.
He represented France in Expo '67, the world's fair in Montreal. He had his first solo show in New York at
Cordier Ekstrom Gallery in 1961, and in 1964, the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis organized his first
American museum retrospective. In 2001, the Musée d'Art Moderne et d'Art Contemporain in Nice
mounted a retrospective.
Arman received United States citizenship in 1973, keeping his French citizenship. Since 1975 he had
maintained homes and studios in New York and in Vence, France.
His first marriage, to Eliane Radigue, ended in divorce.
Arman is survived by his wife; his children from his first marriage, Francoise Moreau of Paris and Anne
Lamb of Montpellier, France; his children from his second marriage, Yasmine Arman and Phillippe
Arman, both of New York; five grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren. His son Yves died in 1989.