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7 March 2013
MODERN PAINTERS | JEAN ARP
By Tessa Paneth-Pollak
Highlighting the reciprocity between collage, print, and sculptural media in Arp’s work, this exhibition draws together a series of collages and reliefs representing the origin and aftermath of the printing of Arp’s 1966 poetry edition Le Soleil Recerclé. These include the set of preparatory collages Arp used to compose the book’s plates and the multitiered wood reliefs he fashioned afterward by painting and assembling the wood forms used for printing. The gallery’s gray walls provide a warm environment in which to view the red-oranges, teals, buttery and marigold yellows, sky blues, and grays of Arp’s biomorphic forms.
The majority of the series’ compositions are square in format, with a roughly circular internal frame that serves as the stage upon which smaller cutouts interact. This apparent sociability of the picture plane is characteristic of Arp’s abstract collage practice, which conceives of each monochromatic cutout element as a potential body in itself. Besides evoking the shape and orbit of the titular soleil, the circular staging grounds where these bodies meet call forth the rounded generative matrices where they might have been produced: the womb, the egg, or the petri dish.
If the compositions conjure scenes of biological reproduction, the show’s hanging reenacts the scene of graphic reproduction: The 14 reliefs and 10 collages occupy opposing walls, calling up the confrontation between relief print matrix and receptive page. Yet many of the reliefs do not map exactly onto their collage predecessors, as Arp chose to rearrange or rotate elements or transpose color schemes. This imperfect correspondence between works exemplifies André Breton’s evocation in Surrealism and Painting of the dreamy incommensurability of indexical relationships in Arp’s universe: “We are walking on sand where each foot leaves an imprint that is not the same size as that foot.”
Arp is more interested in recycling than in mere repetition: Within the collages, he recycles one black, gray, and yellow configuration three times, rotating it slightly with each use. After printing, he recycles the material of his woodblocks into reliefs. Here, recycling (or recircling) means not only reuse but also a return to a previous state: The very procedure of cutting out underwrites this emphasis on return to origins, as each form is the product of the return of scissors or saw to the place of its initial incision. The process also sets Arp’s work in collage, relief printmaking, and relief sculpture into a cyclical relationship: Cutting leads him to the three-dimensional work of relief printmaking and relief sculpture, a dimensionality that permits his return to the two-dimensional imprint. Printed papers then furnish the materials for collages. This tripartite project of Soleil Recerclé suggests new possibilities for thinking about collage as a reproductive technology.
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