L'Italia di Arman e della Topolino

Carlo Alberto Bucci, L'Unità, September 26, 1994
ARMAN AND TOPOLINO'S ITALY

For Arman, ceramic is a change. The well-known French artist, who lives between Vence and New York, has never treated this material before. But Arman is a man who knows how to take advantage of the opportunities that chance offers him. He chose his stage name by exploiting a typo that appeared in the catalog of one of his 1985 exhibitions. For years, he has collected simple everyday objects by lining them up on his canvases, accumulating them inside display cases or arranging them piled on pedestals to make scultures. Likewise, today he has decided to accept the invitation of the curators of the 4th Biennal of Antique Ceramics in Faenza (open until October 23rd at Palazzo delle Esposizioni) who have asked exactly to him to create works with the ancient and precious technique of ceramic. Arman was chosen because he has always been tied to the poor images of the present (suitcases, coffee pots, forks, etc.). He is put in comparison to the ancient ceramics presented by antique dealers in the stands of the exhibition-market section, along with those of the four historical exhibitions set up for the occasion in Faenza. And in front of twelve flasks from the 16th century that come from the Jesuit pharmacy in Novellara, Arman stops fascinated as he entertains us by telling us about his recent and past work. There are twelve almost identical flasks and he exclaims amused «they look just like one of my accumulations». As we enter the room of his exhibition, there are piles of car engines, coffee grinders, sewing machines, dissected coffee pots lined up while other ones completely fill a large Fiat Topolino life-size: all perfectly and admirably reproduced in ceramic by local craftsmen; all shiny, precious and glittering. But where has the «dirt» gone, the hard patina of time on the objects and piles of junk (poubelles) that Arman once displayed? «Thirty years ago, I had no money to buy rich materials, so I used human activity waste», he says, teasing us (he actually has done many works smashing and/or incinerating very expensive violins, cellos and grand pianos). He adds «What interested me, and what interests me today as it did back then, is the everyday object. Because it is a man extension. Like termites transforming wood, man transforms objects and they become a proof of human activity».
 
What about the garbage, those lunch leftovers melting in the polyester?

The poubelles were the result of a life change. When an object or a thing becomes garbage it is no longer malleable. It is something in which you can see all the exchanges of a 20th century man's day. It is almost contemporary archeology. A piece of century's activity. But it is an image that changes just like the general appearance and things at the supermarket have changed over the decades.
 
Using ceramic, here in Faenza, you counterfeited a Fiat Topolino by filling it with coffee pots: why precisely did you use these two objects for this monumental and incongruous association of images?

My gaze is like an Italian life viewer's. It is a pleonasm. It's because the Topolino is so Italian, it is the essence of the postwar automobile. And I also associate coffee with Italy.
 
What is irony for you?

The thing that scares me the most is taking myself too seriously. But when I work I take what I do seriously. Afterwards I distance myself from what I have accomplished. It means irony comes in when I give the title to my work.
 
How much important is randomness in choosing and assemblying your «accumulations»?

It is a calculated hasard on a surface. If I take small objects, such as pens, I scatter them on the surface leaving the arrangement to chance. Other times I instead pay great attention in placing one piece next to another. Just as I did with coffee pots cut in half in this work from Faenza called Quatre étages de conservation, which, indeed, it would be appropriate to title Metallic Morandi.
 
In your destruction of musical instruments do you allude to a broken harmony?

No. I do not use these instruments for their music but for their form. The form of a violin is instinctive: it is like a woman, like a Cycladic sculpture. A cello or a classic guitar are instruments that are more than 300 years old. And their shape has remained intact over the centuries. If an object does not change you can do many things with it, because it is a complete object: it has become classic. And, in fact, the Cubists broke it down to say that in that piece of violin is the whole violin.
 
In some works, like Moon Crescent made of many sickles one next to the other and cast in bronze, it is as if the object is represented by frames in succession, as it happens in Duchamp's 1912 painting Nu descendant un escalier.

I am sensitive to form, direction and dynamics of the moving object. But in Moon Crescent the sickles should be seen together with the other work, the work made with the hammers: as an irony of the communist symbol of hammer and sickle.
 
In counterfeiting objects by casting them in bronze or reproducing them in ceramic it seems like you want to elevate simple things to the high rank of monumental sculpture, as in the accumulation of bronze suitcases you placed at the entrance to a train station in Paris.

Actually, I would have preferred to place real suitcases. But what would be left after only two months of outdoor display of a pile of leather bags?
 
So you embedded them in metal to make them eternal.

Eternity! Eternity is a big word. Eternity as regards our short existence.
 
What did Nuoveau réalisme leave you about this trend in contemporary art of capturing reality at his fullness that made you prefer the objet trouvé over painting?

The percentage of Nouveau réalisme in my work today is very small. Restany reprimanded me for that. But I cannot do the same thing all my life. An artist's privilege is the possibility to change. Compared to the past, today I use different materials, like Faenza ceramics, for example. I have switched to the processed and reinterpreted object. The compositions are more aesthetic and no longer left to chance. Also, it is not true that I have abandoned painting. The next exhibition I am doing in New York in Marisa del Re gallery is made of 20 paintings with one subject: the starry night of Van Gogh.

CARLO ALBERTO BUCCI
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