Realism and Representation: Arman, 1954-1964
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This dissertation, “Realism and Representation: Arman, 1954-1964,” examines the first decade of Arman’s career as a self-proclaimed realist, and offers a new account of four key series he produced in that period: the Cachets, Allures d’objets, Accumulations, and Poubelles. Arman’s early work, which involved first the indexing of real objects and then the display of the objects themselves, was understood at the time as an art of presentation rather than representation, a means of skirting the problems associated with transcribing or even altering “the real.” That interpretation was espoused by the critic Pierre Restany, who championed Arman as the ultimate practitioner of Nouveau Réalisme, a kind of neo-dada realism based in the direct appropriation and presentation of objects from the world, without any intervention on the artist’s part. Arman’s practice came to be seen as purely objective – a simple embrace of reality itself as art – and that reading has persisted in the scholarship since the 1950s. This dissertation instead contextualizes Arman’s artworks within the complex set of renegotiations occurring in his particular historical milieu, and argues that the former are part of a highly intentional and individual project which participates in the larger artistic, literary, and cultural conversations of his time, most crucially the interrogation of the notion of “the real.” I suggest that Arman’s early artworks represent a sustained and powerful engagement with the dialectics of directness and mediation, presentation and representation, and the possibilities for realism therein.