Arman (French American, 1928 –2005), 'Achilles Syndrome,' 1976. Wooden shoe forms, metal screws, and acrylic paint, 19 1/2 by 59 by 30 inches. Ulrich Museum of Art, Wichita State University, Wichita, Kansas. Gift of the artist

Arman (French American, 1928 –2005)

Achilles Syndrome, 1976
Wooden shoe forms, metal screws, and
acrylic paint, 19 1/2 x 59 x 30 in.
Gift of the artist, 1979.0010

Arman helped pioneer a paradigm shift in the art world of the 1950s and 1960s. He was part of a generation that rejected the abstract expressionism then favored by critics and collectors. Instead, he and his contemporaries developed distinctive artistic practices that celebrated chance and change, the raw energy of the street, the consumer marketplace, and mass-media advertising--in short, the pulse of quotidian experience in the mid-twentieth century.

Born Armand Pierre Fernandez in Nice, France, he decided to use his first name only in the late 1940s; and a typesetting error on the cover of an exhibition catalogue in 1958 prompted him to drop the d and style himself simply as Arman. His father owned an antique and used-furniture store. The fact that he grew up surrounded by material objects no doubt influenced his art.

Arman was a leading light in Nouveau réalisme, a movement of young, mostly French artists formed in 1960 that also included Yves Klein, Daniel Spoerri, and Jean Tinguely, among others, as well as the critic Pierre Restany. Collectively, they sought a stark objectivity, a broader, dadaistinspired definition for art, and a wholehearted embrace of modern-day mass culture. Achilles Syndrome (acquired from his 1977 one-person exhibition at the Ulrich Museum) is one of the artist's signature "accumulations," a primary mode of production in his oeuvre.Bemused by consumerist excess and the deification of objects, Arman fused together large quantities of the same commonplace item--in this case, identical shoetrees arranged to resemble a foot. Some of his other notable accumulations featured pliers, axes, teapots, doll parts, gas burners, car hoods, and telephone receivers.

Arman and other Nouveau réalisme artists have often been associated with their American pop art contemporaries, and certainly a fascination with mass culture links them. Distinct differences exist, however, as Arman made clear:

As I evolved into object art, I found myself being called a pop artist. But the term isn't exactly right. Pop artists redo the object. I use the real object. Marcel Duchamp, who is the obvious father of object art, might have taken a soup can and put it on a red pedestal. [Andy] Warhol would repaint the soup can. [ Jasper ] Johns would cast it in bronze. I’d take the soup can and cut it into pieces or weld hundreds of them together in order to change the state of the object from what it was when you first saw it in the supermarket. My interest is in exploring the various worlds of the object. (1)

The Ulrich's collection includes another Arman work, one of his numerous coléres, or tantrums – smashed or burned common objects, typically bearing strong cultural associations. Final Accord (1981), a smashed piano made of bronze, is on permanent display in the Martin H. Bush Outdoor Sculpture Collection.

--Patricia McDonnell, director of the Ulrich Museum of Art

1. Arman quoted in Alison de Lima Greene, "Arman: An Artist in Our Time," in Greene and Pierre Restany, Arman, 1955–1991: A Retrospective, exh. cat. (Houston: Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 1991), 23.