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Arp Retrospective in S.F.

ART NEWS

December 27, 1987|ZAN DUBIN

Abstract artist Jean (Hans) Arp (1887-1966), a principal force in the development of modernism, is the subject of an extensive retrospective at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

The French-born painter, sculptor and poet, a founder of Dadaism, was also a key figure in the Surrealist, Constructivist and Expressionist movements. His work encompassed sensual biomorphic forms--for which he is best known--witty and fanciful figurations and austere geometric designs. Arp was also a pioneer of what might be called the art of chance procedure, randomly assembling fragments from his earlier works, as he once said, "according to the laws of chance."

The 150-piece exhibition, titled "The Universe of Jean Arp," consists of sculptures, reliefs and seldom-exhibited oil paintings, drawings, collages, prints and textiles. Organized by the Minneapolis Institute of Arts and the Wurttembergische Kunstverein of Stuttgart, the show will conclude an international six-city tour at the San Francisco museum Jan. 31.

"We, to some extent, agreed with the organizers of the exhibit that it was time we looked at Arp's work again," said the museum's chief curator, Graham Beal, in a recent phone interview. "Because we've been re-evaluating what modernism means in these post-modernist days, to look at an artist who was so central to the Dada and Surreal movements was particularly important.

"I always had a sense that Arp was so good, that people didn't really look at his work anymore," continued Beal. "I also thought it would be good to examine certain aspects of his early work, such as automatic technique--tearing bits of paper and seeing how they fall, drawing with the eyes closed, drawing without thinking about it, for example. Bruce Nauman and William Wiley practiced this kind of art and they are both from the Bay Area. So there was a kind of local connection to the classical European modernism.

"But that's Arp as thinker and rebel. On the other hand, we felt it was important to re-examine his later work, the beautiful, sexy biomorphic stuff, that has become clouded with all the imitations of it you see around; people who find rocks and polish them up and think they have a work of art."

Public response to the exhibit has been "pretty good," Beal said, despite certain criticisms leveled by the San Francisco Chronicle that Arp's place in art history had been overblown by the show.

When the exhibit opened last month, the Chronicle's Kenneth Baker wrote that its organizers had erroneously advertised it "as though Arp were the artistic equal of Matisse, Klee or Brancusi," and that the exhibit and its catalogue "did not offer the sort of perspective that might enable (viewers) to arrive at a reasonable evaluation of Arp's place in the modern art pantheon."

However, Beal still stands by the show, the first Arp retrospective in 20 years. "I did agree with organizers it was important to look again at Arp because he was so central to particular developments."

A selection of works by Swiss artist Sophie Taeuber (1889-1943), Arp's wife and sometime collaborator, is also included in the retrospective. A few of their collaborative pieces are on view.

The Chronicle's Baker wrote: "Taeuber's pieces, and the collaborative works, are among the most informative aspects of the show. Her works have an unexpected authority that suggests how real an artistic debt Arp may have owed his wife."

PEOPLE: Richard Koshalek, director of the Museum of Contemporary Art, has been elected to the board of trustees of the American Federation of Arts. The federation, formed by the recent merger of the American Federation of Arts of New York City and the San Francisco-based Art Museum Assn. of America, aims to broaden the public's knowledge and appreciation of historical and contemporary art through its traveling art, film and video exhibitions. It also offers museum services in management and computer programs.

ART FOR WHOSE SAKE?: Schlaifer Nance & Co., which made more than $4 million licensing the infamous Cabbage Patch Kids dolls and related products, has signed an exclusive contract for the worldwide licensing rights to the name and works of famed Pop artist Andy Warhol.

Negotiations on the deal were begun by Schlaifer Nance & Co. before Warhol's death last February. "Andy was keen on the idea of the licensing program," said Fred Hughes, who, according to a prepared statement from the licensing company, was Warhol's close friend, longtime business manager and executor of his estate. "His success with commercial endeavors was one of the seeming paradoxes of his career."

Details of the Warhol licensing arrangement have not been finalized, but the statement notes that "upscale fashion, gift and decorative accessories will be the cornerstones of the program."

PUBLIC ART: "Billboard," A 20-foot-long abstract artwork by Southern California artist Jay Willis, was recently temporarily installed in Beverly Hills for the inauguration of that city's Municipal Sculpture Garden, a new public art project.

"Billboard" is the first of several sculptures to be located throughout Beverly Gardens Park, located on Santa Monica Boulevard between Rodeo and Beverly drives.

The new public art project, coordinated by the Beverly Hills Fine Art Committee, will place in the park for periods of 18-36 months sculptures loaned by Southern California artists. Among other artists who have been invited to participate in the project are Woods Davy, Michael Todd, Guy Dill and George Herms.

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