CERAMIC GOES POP
Report by Claudio Spadoni, L'Unità 2, September 26th 1994
Faenza - «Among all of nouveaux réalistes Arman is the one who has pushed the process of appropriation to the furthest and has drawn the most rigorous logical consequences from it on the level of quantitative expression».
This is what Pierre Restany wrote about nouveau réalisme more than twenty-five years ago. He was the critic - theorist and promoter of the movement, that was born very close to the American New Dada and Pop Art. Arman was the artist whose two creations are the guests of honor of the 1994 edition of the International Ceramic Events held in Faenza sponsored by the City Council.
Nouveau réalisme was a true realism, where ordinary images and objects were not represented through painting or sculpture, but "presented" as they were, through direct sampling. The precedent was of course Duchamp's ready-made, that were common, mass-produced objects promoted as works of art through the artist's choice and their presentation to the public in an artistic venue such as a gallery. And then there was the whole new tradition of polymaterism, that is, various, non-art materials used for paintings and three-dimensional works, especially by Dadaism and Surrealism. But at that point, however, it was a matter of being directly reckoned with consumer society, with the rising of products and with an idea of art increasingly aimed at overcoming the principle of fiction of representation, in order to be more real. It was necessary to artistically take possession of the objects, to transform them from banal commodities having a practical function only into things dignified by an aesthetic function. Restany strongly insisted on the sociological matter of such an operation, pointing to an ideological undertone that, on the other hand, seemed almost missing in the American Pop art. Arman (aka Armand Pierre Fernandez) was born in Nice in 1928 and for this reason he also considered himself somewhat Italian. He had a peculiar education. He enrolled in the Cours Poisat, a school for girls, then he graduated in philosophy and then attended the National School of Decorative Arts in Nice. Ultimately he enrolled in the Louvre school, where he approached surrealist painting. In the meantime he had met Yves Klein, who would become a central figure of nouveau realisme as well. The two of them shared work and life experiences. Klein, deeply influenced by Eastern thinking and devoted to abstract painting rich in zen philosophy and theosophic suggestions, seemed, at first, to involve Arman and his interests as well. But if Klein's world is all about the spiritual, Arman feels drawn to matter instead, to the object practicality. Thus, the transition from the panel to the pad, with which he makes the Cachets marks the decisive stage towards his mature expressive style, characterized by "accumulations" of materials and objects. The first "accumulation" in 1959 consisted of an imprecise number of radio valves collected within a container. This was followed by alarm clocks, screws, guns, crushed tubes of paint, brushes, violins, cigarettes, chalks, trumpets, toothbrushes, breakfast leftovers, always melted in plyesten, along with and a ton of other things locked within display cases. Arman also signed the 1960 nouveau réalisme manifesto in Milan and became one of the major artists of the movement. Somehow, he was the other side of the coin to Klein and his monochromes: the bliss of matter as well as spirit's. Not without a reason, Arman replied to Klein's exhibition commonly known as "Emptiness" calling his own exhibit "Full up". Now, at sixty-six years old, the artist keeps on his path between objects and materials, and in Faenza he presents a series of pieces made in workshops around Faenza and Imola. He presents a monument made of motorbike engines, piled one on top of the other, along woth coffee grinders, cups, letterboxes, sewing machines, dissected coffee pots, jugs. He also presents a life-size Fiat Topolino car entirely made in ceramic. Arman is enthusiastic about the work by the master ceramists from Romagna. He came to Faenza despite a recent surgery, but he does not shy away from the conversation. About his work called Caraffe Gris, he says they are like metallic Morandi pieces. And he points out that he is not interested in producing new forms, but rather in working on the huge amount of samples that already exist, focusing on the texture of the objects, their function, putting them in order (or in a tidy disorder) and giving them a possible dynamism. About his cut objects - such as a Venus - he says they are linked to his memories as a child, when he used to go to industrial machine exhibitions with his dad and was able to see the inside of these objects. «I am really fascinated by what stays inside the object, its hidden part» Arman says. When you point out to him that working with ceramic fiction and appearance are involved (such as in the Fiat Topolino piece or the one with engines or sewing machines, where the real object is buried by ceramic copies, making it impossible to identify) he replies that «after Duchamp it is ridiculous to raise this question». He keeps on overturning the conversation about fiction saying: «I would rather call it staging; in my case, it's about objects that I am interested in». In front of one of his Venus cut in half with telephones instead of bowels, Arman reminds that surrealist artists stated that «beauty will either be convulsive or won't be», suggesting a connection with Ernst and Dali.
THE PROGRAM: FROM THE FARNESE FAMILY TO THE 18TH CENTURY THE SPLENDORS OF TERRACOTTA
Faenza celebrates its role of ceramic capital this year as well for over a month. Until October 23rd the Romagna city is hosting the International Art Ceramics Exhibitions, promoted by the City Council and the International Museum of Ceramics and set up in the halls of Palazzo delle Esposizioni. There are five exhibitions, documenting both historical proof and documentation of how contemporary artists work with ceramics. So after Baj, Burri and Matta, this year Faenza presents another protagonist of contemporary art, the French artist Arman, with a series of works made in some master ceramists workshops around Faenza and Imola. The other four exhibitions retrace many chapters in the history of ceramics: "In the sign of the lily: ceramics for the Farnese family" include more than 100 pieces resulting from the commission of the Roman aristocratic family, which was particularly flourishing in the 16th century. Established by the Gonzagas at the end of the 16th century, the Jesuit pharmacy in Novellara showcases ceramic and glass objects from the family; the spice shop in San Benedetto in Montefiascone shows the furnishings of the pharmacy of the Benedictine monastery of Montefiascone, kept in the museum of Palazzo Venezia; and finally, a selection of precious European porcelain from the 18th century comes from Castello del Buonconsiglio in Trento. The events in Faenza include the fourth Biennial of Antique Ceramics, the market exhibition open until September 25th.