French sculptor, painter, and poet Jean Arp was one of the most important sculptors of the twentieth century. He is best known for the leading role he played in the formation of the Dada movement in Zurich, Cologne, and Paris.
Hans Arp was born September 16, 1886 in Strasbourg. His father was German and his mother, Alsatian. After World War I, when the Alsace was annexed by France, his name was changed to Jean advocated by French law.
After completing his studies at the Strasbourg School of Applied Art, Jean Arp decided to focus on poetry, frustrated with the restrictive art techniques in his native Strasbourg. In 1904, he ventured to Paris seeking to have his poetry published. During his stay there, he was inspired by the modern art paintings which awakened his passion to create great art.
Fueled with enthusiasm, Arp studied at the Strasbourg School of Arts and Crafts, at Weimar in Germany from 1905 to 1907. When his studies were completed, he returned to Paris to attend the Académie Julian. In 1911, he contributed to the organization of an exhibition in Lucerne which showcased the works of artists such as Gauguin, Matisse, and Picasso. That same year, he met artists from the Blaue Reiter (a group of German painters fundamental to Expressionism), and in 1913 was invited to contribute works in the first Autumn Salon in Berlin along side Wassily Kandinsky and the German Expressionists. Jean Arp moved to Paris a year later, influenced by the cubist works of Picasso, Apollinaire, Modigliani, and Delaunay.
At the outbreak of WWI, the artist took refuge in Zurich, Switzerland in order to avoid being drafted, and exhibited his first mature abstracts and paper cutouts in 1915. Jean Arp met and fell in love with painter Sophie Taeuber, whom he married in 1921. The years in Zurich would prove to be time well spent as his artistic involvement resulted in the birth of Dadaism; an anti-art movement that protestest against the barbarism of World War I and traditional culture. His collages of torn paper and painted wood relief’s at that time were both whimsical in spirit and biomorphic in form.
In 1920, with the help of Max Ernst and Alfred Grünwald, Jean Arp set up the Cologne Dada group. Together they worked from the Cabaret Voltaire, a tavern transformed into a place where literary and poetry readings, as well as art exhibitions were held. As he began to experiment with automatic composition (automatism), his wooden abstract reliefs became even more abstract.
When Dadaism ended in 1919, Arp began to gravitate towards surrealism. In 1925, his work appeared in the first exhibition of the surrealist group at the Galerie Pierre in Paris. A year later, he moved to Meudon, a Paris suburb, where he became a founder of Abstraction-Creation in 1931. His organic forms, although simple in structure, became more severe and geometrical. He described his sculptures as "concretions" (something that has grown).
Jean Arp continued to explore art through poetry and was successfully published throughout his lifetime. In 1942, in an effort to escape German occupation, he moved back to Zurich until the war ended. His wife, Sophie Taeuber-Arp, died there a year later. After some time, he married art collector Margurite Hagenback.
A visit to New York City in 1949 featured a solo exhibition by the artist at the Buchholz Gallery. Nine years later, a retrospective of his works was held at the Museum of Modern Art. In 1950, he completed a monumental wood and metal relief for Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, whose praise won him the commission to create a mural at the UNESCO building in Paris.
Jean Arp enjoyed continued success. He won the Grand Prize for Sculpture at the Venice Biennale in 1954 and was exhibited at the Musée National d'Art Moderne, Paris, in 1962. Some of his most memorable works include: ‘Collage Arranged According to the Laws of Chance’ (1916-17), ‘Mountain Table Anchors Navel (1925), ‘Configuration’ (1933), and ‘Torso’ (1953). Jean Arp died on June 7, 1966, in Basel, Switzerland.