An Artistic Partnership
The sudden death in 1943 of Arp’s wife, the artist Sophie Taeuber-Arp, shattered a relationship that began with their first acquaintance in Zurich in 1915 and had developed in multiple ways during the French years (1926-1942), when it had become even closer and stronger, both artistically and personally. Arp’s lament in a letter to Taeuber-Arp’s sister—“Art doubtless bound us together, but it also robbed us of a great deal”—makes art the core of their partnership. In that he stylized it as a higher power, he was able to think of Taeuber-Arp and himself as its acolytes, who willingly followed its dictates. For him, after her death, it was an elementary strategy for coming to terms with his loss. Art continued to be the defining constant of his life, and Taeuber-Arp would always remain present in his work.
Jean (Hans) Arp and Sophie Taeuber-Arp, Duo-Drawing, 1939. Ink on paper, 10 11/16 x 8 3/16 in. (27.2 x 20.9 cm). Stiftung Arp e.V., Berlin/Rolandswerth. Copyright 2018 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn. Photo: Andr. van Linn, courtesy Stiftung Arp e.V., Berlin/Rolandswerth
In 1946 Arp illustrated Le Siège de l’air (The seat of air), his first French-language poetry collection after Taeuber-Arp’s death, with a few of the Duo-Drawings they made together in 1939 (see opposite). Then in 1947 he created three papiers déchirés (torn-paper collages) out of torn prints of these illustrations, which can be read as signs of a new beginning (see next page). Though the genre of the déchiré by definition involves the destructive act of tearing, Arp here heightened the destruction further by shredding joint works as an indication of the dramatic ending of their relationship. In his recomposition of the separate pieces, however, one sees the constructive power of art, capable of creating the positive out of the negative. The completion of Taeuber-Arp’s catalogue raisonné at this time was a relief for Arp: “Finally the commemorative book for Sophie is finished. I could say perfected, for it has become a beautiful and valuable work…emotionally I’m feeling much better, however less well physically.”
Just as collaboration in Arp’s work had previously been an everyday reality for Taeuber-Arp, after her death, he was determined to “carry on” with her work. He did so not by developing new strategies, but rather by working in the same manner he did in his own art. The déchirés, along with poems and small prose pieces, were a special way Arp dealt with people important to him. The negative aspect of shredding is minimized, giving way to the recomposition of the individual fragments. In the 1950s he created a series of photographies déchirés for which he tore up portrait photos and/or photographs of artworks and rearranged the separate pieces. A déchiré of a photograph of Taeuber-Arp’s 1928 embroidery composition Aubette, for example, dates from 1950 to 1953. In it, the ragged white edges of the torn photo paper are clearly visible. Arp employed the same method in the collage for the cover of the catalogue of his exhibition at the Galerie Berggruen, Paris, in 1955. He tore up portrait photos and photos of artworks and rearranged them so that the déchiré becomes an actual self-portrait of the artist.
Jean (Hans) Arp, Untitled, 1947. Collage with print of a torn 1939 Duo-Drawing by Arp and Taeuber-Arp from Arp’s Le Siège de l’air (The seat of air), 11 13/16 x 9 5/16 in. (30 x 23.7 cm). Arp Museum Bahnhof Rolandseck, Remagen. Copyright 2018 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn. Photo: Mick Vincenz/Arp Museum Bahnhof Rolandseck, Remagen
A group of collages, some of which have only a single torn element, represent a special hybrid form. One is The Little Prince (1963; at left); it belongs to a group of dolls, called Poupées—decoupages whose wavy outlines describe the human body. Arp began making them in the early 1950s, and it has been suggested that they were inspired by a Taeuber-Arp tapestry in Arp’s collection from 1924. The figure of The Little Prince has a slight swelling in the middle of the body, which is often associated with fertility—or here, perhaps, with creative union, for to the upper part of the collage Arp pasted a fragment of a watercolor with a vertical-horizontal composition by Taeuber-Arp. Geometric and organic abstraction, their respective artistic positions, thus appear to be combined. In the broadest sense, one could say that this poupée symbolizes the Arp who has “internalized” Taeuber-Arp. The fragment of her work in The Little Prince is like an emblem of the relationship and the title an expression of Arp’s loss: Just as Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s literary figure yearns at the end of his journey for the rose of his home planet, Arp longs for his flower Sophie.
Jean (Hans) Arp, The Little Prince, 1963. Collage on painted cardboard with a fragment of a watercolor drawing by Sophie Taeuber-Arp, 27 x 9 1/8 in. (68.5 x 23 cm). Fondazione Marguerite Arp, Locarno. Copyright 2018 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn. Photo: Courtesy Fondazione Marguerite Arp, Locarno
Written by Walburga Krupp.
Excerpted from her essay on Jean (Hans) Arp and Sophie Taeuber-Arp in the exhibition catalogue The Nature of Arp.
The entire catalogue is available for sale in the Nasher Store and online at store.nashersculpturecenter.org.