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Jean Arp’s poetic. An exhibition at Diocletian’s Baths

Jean Arp has often been seen almost exclusively as related to Dadaism. But it’s not so easy.

The relationship with the Dada movement is not only undeniable, but essential for the definition of his poetic. Arp was, in fact, a personality more complex than it might appear.

The current exhibition at the National Museum of Rome – Baths of Diocletian (until January 15, 2017) aims to shed light on the artist from Alsace, on his touching several artistic movements of the 1900s, and his coming to an entirely original work.

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Questo post è disponibile anche in italiano.

Cet article est disponible en Français.

  • Where: Jean Arp, grandi aule in the Museo Nazionale Romano – Terme di Diocleziano, viale Enrico de Nicola, 79.
  • When: from tuesday to sunday, up to Jan. 15th
  • Why: to know better an artist that had a very personal vision of the classical worl , and who was able to rework independently for a balanced  art.

The Jean Arp exhibition availed of a series of temporal coincidences that can not be ignored. 2016 was, in fact, not only the fiftieth anniversary of the death of the artist, but also the centenary of the birth of the Dada movement.

But this exhib requires the visitor to overcome the solemnity comingfrom the contrast and the dialogue between the Roman walls of the Great Halls of the Baths of Diocletian (where it is hosted) and the smoothness of the surfaces of Jean Arp’s sculptures.

An artist apart.

If the Arp artistic experience borns with the birth of the Dada movement, it rather quickly takes a different way.

Arp was one of the founders of Dada at the Cabaret Voltaire in Zurich in 1916, and never give up his own individuality. That of Dadaism was been a vital experience for his art, necessary to undermine the schemes of classical art. He did not, however, share nihilism, nor the concept of ready-made, nor the idea of anti-art. Against the avant-garde he demonstrated an individualist attitude, as Duchamp laconically noted: “For Arp Art is Arp“.

The advantage of this exhibition is to highlighting Arp’s artistic birth through the disruptive element that occurs with the Dadaist experience. But also the development of an indipendent and deeply personal research; this allows Arp to get to the artistic forms no more depending on anything except themselves. And that started a new artistic trend.

Who Jean Arp is.

Framing Arp in a category or an artistic movement is impossible. It is also difficult to give an univocal definition to his geographical origin.

Born in Strasbourg in Alsace, the French region next to Germany and Switzerland, poised between its French and German nature. This ambiguity is reflected, at least in part, also in Arp’s biography.

His mother was Alsatian, his father German; he alternated for life the names Hans and Jean, depending on the language and circumstances.

He took refuge in neutral Switzerland to avoid conscription during the First World War, in 1916 in Zurich is one of the founders of the Dada movement. The works of this first period in Switzerland, in accordance with the dictates of the Dadaists, are affected by the laws of chance.

The randomly aspect was in fact one of the main elements of Dada. The Dada artists, first, refused any rational attitude, entrusting entirely to chance.

Arp will always remain true to the experience Dada radical values as subversive tool to transform lives and reconcile men with the natural order.

Tête de lutin, dite “Kaspar”, 1930.

After the war he came back to Germany, where he pursued the Dadaist experience; soon, however, forsake Dadaism on behalf of surrealism. Leave then also the Surrealist group to pursue an independent investigation, without never forgetting the search result of past experiences.

The exhibition of the Diocletian Baths highlights precisely the Arp’s artistic autonomy; the sculptor isolates himself from the internal strife of the artistic movements to whom participate, landing in a vision indipendent from any current.

A “Classical” artist.

Torse-nombril (1915). Clamart, Fondation Arp, France.

Jean Arp is, like most of the sculptors, deeply influenced by classical. His interest in antiquity turns out to not be obvious: it is not classical and Renaissance art, but a different kind of classic that stimulates his attention.

The dialogue undertaken by Arp with the sculpture of the past is with civilizations that aesthetically tend to appear as more distant. The French artist is more influenced by the Cycladic figurines than the great sculptures of the Greek-Roman world.

Art in progress.

 Arp’s attention and researches, do not focus on the object itself, but on its transformation: the shapes, in their continuous interaction, suggest the outcome. With the same spirit is the attempt to regain the relationship between man and nature, as Dada dictat; this happens through a bio-morphic and organic researche that for the first time becomes so relevant (just think about architecture and design, which its fluidity and movement became their own distinctive characteristic).

Sculpture à être perdue dans la forêt (1932) – Clamart, Fondation Arp, France

Finally the form manages to break through the barriers that man tries to impose. The development moves towards multiple directions and is transformed into a wider idea; the poetic created by the artist completely involves the onlooker. The man, matter and nature come together to reach a cosmic dimension.

Jean Arp and Sophie Taeuber.

A beautiful section of the exhibition is finally dedicated to Sophie Taeuber, wife of Jean Arp.

C’est Sophie, par l’exemple de son travail

et de sa vie baignée de clarté,

qui me montra le juste chemin.

Dans ce monde,

le haut et le bas,

le clair et l’obscur,

l’éternel et l’éphémère

se tiennent dans in équilibre parfait.

Ainsi se ferma le cercle.

-Jean Arp-

Sophie was essential for Arp: she also have been a partner in artistic research from the beginnings to the sudden death in 1943.


Sophie Taeuber was a dancer and abstract artist, who specialized in the field of textiles and interior decoration.

What emerges is a relationship of interdependence; the two artists share the research that leads them to continuous experimentation, moving in the same direction. On display are artworks in their early career, as four hands works.

Along with the works created by the same or Sophie and her husband, are Jean Arp’s words in poems composed for his wife that are able to describe her in the best way.

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