Hans (Jean) Arp was born in the city of Strasbourg (1886). Between 1900 and 1908, he studied art at the Strasbourg School of Arts and Crafts, the Weimar Academy of Art, and the Académie Julian in Paris but was dissatisfied with the academic and tedious instruction. Since then living in Switzerland, Arp began to establish contacts with artists he had met in Paris and cofounded the Moderner Bund (with Oskar Lüthy), an exhibition society for Swiss modern artists. He also traveled widely, establishing connections with artists and writers in Paris, the expressionist Blaue Reiter group headed by Wasily Kandinsky in Munich, and Herwarth Walden's Sturm Gallery and magazine in Berlin. As a result of these contacts, several of his drawings were published in the Blaue Reiter Almanach in 1912, and he was employed by Walden to organize exhibitions and write reviews in Berlin.
During the war he lived in Switzerland and met more artists who were also taking refuge in Switzerland, among them Otto and Adya van Rees. With Otto van Rees, Arp designed and painted a mural for a children's school in Ascona. For Arp, these artistic collaborations were an important way of counteracting the isolating effects of modernity.
His most important collaborator was Sophie Taeuber, whom he met in 1915 and married in 1922. Taeuber influenced Arp to begin working with unconventional materials and techniques; in Arp's words, the two of them "embroidered, wove, painted, and pasted static geometric pictures." In their "duo-collages," he and Taeuber used a paper cutter instead of scissors to eliminate the trace of the artist's hand. By overcoming the constraints of tradition and individual subjectivity, Arp hoped to "approach the pure radiance of reality."
When the war ended, Arp was able to reestablish the international contacts that had been so important to him prior to 1914. In Cologne he formed a Dada collaborative with Johannes Theodor Baargeld and Max Ernst, contributing poetic texts to the collages of Ernst. Later he became aligned with Dada in Paris, and his work became more figurative. The reliefs from this period parody everyday objects, which are made absurd by overt simplification of their forms. Hans Arp died in 1966 in Basel.
More extensive is Amanda L. Hockensmith, 'Hans (Jean) Arp', published in Leah Dickerman (ed.), Dada. Zurich, Berlin, Hannover, Cologne, New York, Paris (National Gallery of Art : Washington DC 2005) 460-461 and online available at Dada biographies: Hans (Jean) Arp, an exhibition at the National Gallery of Art. The article is translated in French and published in Dada / Catalogue publié sous la direction de Laurent Le Bon (Éditions du centre Pompidou : Paris 2005) 134.
Retouched portrait Hans Arp (original 1926) from the Katherine S. Dreier papers/Societe Anonyme archive [Collection Beinecke Library, Yale Collection of American Literature]
banner: Hans (Jean) Arp, 1925 [Photo from De Stijl 7 (January 1926) nr. 73/74; anonymous photographer]