Oh my God! What a mess is Hans Arp’s show at Hauser & Wirth Saville Row. Curated by Julian Heynen, this exhibition tries to do so many things at the same time that ends up being a complete and utter mess. Firstly, the curatorship is constructed over a contradiction in terms which is the allegedly synergetic relationships between form and chance. Secondly, it gathers a series of rarely seen sculptures from 1947 to 1965 and arranges them around Passstücke (Adaptives) by Franz West. Thirdly, it explores the relationship between the objectual form and Arp’s poetry. In fact, excerpts from over 27 poems have been installed on the walls and over 20 poems are broadcasted in different areas of the room.There is no way, anyone could get anything from the association between the images and the text. The presence of West in the show makes any further association even more difficult.
It is literally impossible to describe the contradictory sensations that the visitors is thrown at and which translates into an overwhelming confusion. The reasons for Heyden’s decision to organise this show in this particular way are impossible to guess but if I have to give it a go I would say that there are two possibilities. Julian Heynen either, tried to be too smart trying to allegorise the whole arrangement (which, in itself, is a very tricky strategy) and it went really wrong or the guy has no idea of he is doing and decided to look smart by throwing as much information as possible transforming the gallery space into a grinder. . I am saying this because, if we give him the benefit of the doubt, we might think that this mess is an allegory of the necessary fragmentation required for conveying Harp’s links to the Dada movement or to Surrealism.
Unsurprisingly, Time Out’s Martin Coomer seems to have been seduced by Heyden’s strategy when saying: ‘In a curatorial masterstroke, Hauser & Wirth has arranged Arp’s slinkily semi-figurative sculptures within an irregular grid format that, set against a stark red wall, feels amazingly fresh. It certainly reinvigorates this classic, surrealism-inflected modernism drawn primarily from the mid-1940s to mid-1960s (Arp died in 1966). From outside, it’s a richly impressive scene. Inside, you’re drawn along sight lines, getting up-close with works to enjoy contrasts not just of form – variously biomorphic, attenuated and phallic, with a focus on solid/void, inside/outside – but also materials and textures – bronze, wood, granite marble’. I think that Coomer is confusing ‘contrast’ for eclecticism.
There is, certainly, something very classicising in the way these sculptures have been arranged but this contrasts with the post-modern and montage-like phenomenology of the experience. It is as if the viewer is invited to follow that loose continuation of classical traditions that these objects convey while, at the same time, he or she are pulled in different directions. Arp’s creative process was guided by intuition and informed by chance; burgeoning, abstract forms encounter complex, introverted figures, revealing an unique visual vocabulary with a basis in biomorphism but that demands informed viewing that this concoction of sensations does not allow.
To summarise it, these objects are visual paradoxes in themselves that must be presented in a minimal way allowing them to breath. Take ’Ptolemy II’ as an example of Arp’s approach to sculpture in his later period, revealing an exploration of form through a sensual language of opposites – inside and outside; solid and void; presence and emptiness, human and nature. The sculpture draws on and transcends sculptural abstraction and figuration while addresses the viewer from the point of view of ‘the beautiful’. All this disappears with the inclusion of the sound and the text. This shows how bad and grandiose curatorship can ruin the work of a great artist. A real pity. Just a thought.