artist / participant
Donald Judd disliked abstract art resembling the human anatomy. At the same time he praised Jean Arp (1886-1966) for his passionate sense of a body. In 1963, Arp presented an exhibition of sculpture, from 1923 to 1963, at the Sidney Janis Gallery in New York. Among the 37 works in the show were Torse from 1931, Concrétion humaine from 1933, Evocation humaine from 1950-60, and Grande Personnage from 1957. Those four sculptures were fabricated in Bronze. La poupée de Déméter from 1961 as well as Coquille cristal which is similar to Ganyméde was presented in marble. The exhibition catalogue (a copy is to be found in Judd’s library) includes a text originally published for the Arp retrospective at the National Museum of Modern Art (1962) in Paris. It was written by Jean Cassou who considered Arp’s search for unity, for purity and vitality a successful opposition to Cubism. Marcel Duchamp translated that introduction into English for the 1963 audience in New York.
Donald Judd, a major New York art critic by then, reviewed Arp’s Sidney Janis show for Arts Magazine in September 1963. It is stunning how Judd described the sculptor’s endeavor: “Arp’s work is nearly always good, and so the exhibition is. [...] One of the interesting aspects of sculpture, and a relevant one currently, is that a good piece is a whole which has no parts. The protuberances can never clearly be considered other, smaller units; even partially disengaged sections are kept from being secondary units within or adding up to a larger one. This lack of distinct parts forces you to see the piece as a whole.”
Wholeness was, in Judd’s work, a key issue from 1963 on. In February 1964 Judd commented in a now famous radio discussion with Bruce Glaser and Frank Stella, “The big problem is to maintain the sense of the whole thing. I just want it to exist as a whole thing.” Judd’s important essay Specific Objects, written in 1964 and published in late 1965, contained a core statement: “The thing as a whole, its quality as a whole, is what is interesting.”
Seen from today, Jean Arp seems to be one of the few ideal artists for Judd. The Sidney Janis show helped him to shape his own artistic vision. Judd, however, never met with Arp. It is uncertain whether he saw Arp’s large exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in 1958. Since then, more and more of Arp’s major sculptures went to museums and private collectors in the US.
Jean (Hans) Arp was born 1886 in Strasbourg where he began studying art. He later moved to Weimar and Paris. He became a founding member of the Dada movement and worked as a poet before deciding, around 1930, to also become a sculptor. He saw himself as a pioneer of Concrete Art, a movement that was strongly supported by architects such as Le Corbusier and artists such as Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, Piet Mondrian and Max Bill. Jean Arp and his colleague and wife Sophie Taeuber-Arp preceded Judd and other artists in the 1960s. Their major goal was a non-naturalistic art creating reality instead of imitating it.
The Chinati Foundation is very grateful to the Stiftung Hans Arp und Sophie Taeuber-Arp e.V. in Rolandswerth, Germany, for major loans and substantial support for his exhibition. Personal thanks go to Dr. Loretta Würtenberger and Daniel Asmus Tümpel, Berlin.
Jean Arp at Chinati