During this early Spring of 2007 in New York, a moment decidedly après le deluge , with a leg and a half still stuck in winter gloom, one of our few guilty pleasures is a show of photographs at the new FIAF Gallery by Arman (1928 – 2005). Here is his self portrait.
The French-born sculptor is best known for his accumulations, fashioned from assembled objects, like a hundred pairs of pliers, or toy cars mashed together in glass vitrines, or multiple impressions of rubber stamps. It was his contribution to Nouveau Réalisme, which made him a star in Paris. But in Arman: Accumulation of Friends, curated by Gabrielle Breyers, we see another side of the artist – the insider in the demimonde, eagerly gathering evidence. His joie de vivre behind the lens is apparent, a continuation of his omnivorous, restless spirit, the generous and expansive nature of an assembleur -- a collector whose voracious appetite hopes to be large enough to embrace all the objects of the world. In this case, the embrace is for his friends and for us, his viewers.
Arman was a citizen of the world, but came to live and work primarily in New York, where he maintained a palatial home, studio and legendary salon on Washington Street in Tribeca. He arrived in town in 1962, seemingly with camera in hand. It was a propitious moment – Pop Pop Pop - to begin chronicling the art scene. This exhibition gives us a peek into that heady decade, the 60s through the early 70s, when most of the 82 color and b/w images were taken. They were undoubtedly culled by Ms. Breyers from a much larger set.
We can view artists and writers at work and at play. Many were already among les immortels, like Marcel Duchamp hunkered over his game of chess. Others have since become legendary, but we see them forty years ago, at the outset of their careers, in the first flush of fame, perhaps in an earlier, unguarded moment. Some, like Jim Rosenquist, look barely old enough to carry around money.
This is a show of snapshots, but what snapshots! There are revelations everywhere. Carolee Schneeman in denim jumper dress, pensively cradling a cat. Robert Indiana in battered hat and sweater, also avec chat. A marvelous shot of Yayoi Kusama, tiny and perched atop a high stool, in front of one of her dot paintings. A remarkably composed Merce Cunningham, sitting, side lit. John Cage twirling dials during a performance, cigarette holder clenched between his teeth. Jasper Johns chortling and holding an Instamatic. Robert Rauschenberg, back to us, carrying one of his early silkscreens. Frank Stella at work in his studio, brush in hand, next to a shaped b/w stripe painting. Larry Rivers blowing his sax. An elfin Lucas Samaras, smiling inwardly. Ed Kienholz, quintessential beatnick, in shades, goatee and white chinos, standing atop a junkyard. Donald Judd, in a very grainy shot, eyeing one of his early boxes. Andy Warhol talking to Ivan Karp in the Factory, Gerard Malanga hefting a canvas in the background. Picasso at an opening. Joseph Beuys looking just like himself. Did he ever look different?
There is, of course, much more, with a decided Gaullic twist. Two shots of Jean Tinguely. Two also of Daniel Spoerri, one in the company of Ray Johnson. Mimmo Rotella in studio, about to slather the posters with wheat paste. Ben, César, Bernar Venet. Pierre Restany lighting a cigar. Yves Klein in abbreviated swimsuit, clowning on a pebbly beach. A very young Alain Jacquet, already a sharp dude. Christo and Jean Claude at an exhibition. Joseph Kossuth, thin and wearing shades. Marisol. Niki de Saint Phalle. Roy Lichtenstein in two-shot with cigar.
The names just come rolling off the tongue, activating memories of a certain age. This is a great show for cultists. Coming just two years after Arman’s death, it is a fitting legacy to his place in the art firmament, and a splendid inauguration of the new FIAF Gallery. There is an accompanying catalogue, small and well designed, on sale for $25.00, with a short essay by Tom Bishop, and notes of appreciation and remembrance by Ron Lauder, Agnes Gund, Ralph Gibson and Frank Stella.
Arman: Accumulation of Friends
Wednesday, April 18 - Tuesday, May 15
French Institute/Alliance Française
22 East 60th Street
Free and open to the public