One day, while I was working on the series Poubelles [Rubbish Bins], walking in a dump I saw a Louis XV-style armchair which was burning on top of a pile of rubbish; under my gaze, the armchair, wrapped in flames, capsized. It reminded me of Magritte’s painting L’échelle du feu [The ladder of fire], showing different objects burning: paper, an armchair and a tuba.
Arman in conversation with Otto Hahn in Arman, Mémoires accumulés: entretiens avec Otto Hahn, Belfond, Paris, 1992
In 1964 Arman was invited to exhibit at the Stedeljik Museum in Amsterdam. When the curator asked him to create a work for the museum’s entrance, they visited a dump where a Louis XV- style armchair was burning on top of a pile of rubbish, and it reminded him of René Magritte’s iconic painting L’échelle du feu. Upon returning to Nice, he created the Fauteuil d’Ulysse with the help of Martial Raysse. This was the origin of Arman’s combustion technique, which consisted in the artist setting on fire elegant furniture and musical instruments and then applying resin
Arman was born in 1928 in Nice, only son of Antonio Fernandez, furniture and antiques dealer of Spanish origin having lived in Algeria, and of Marguerite Jacquet, stemming from a family of farmers. Arman is recognized internationally as a main protagonist of the French Nouveau Réalisme school, which was parallel to the American Pop Art movement in the United States during the 1960s. At the core of his artistic statement are his “Accumulations” which employ the use of everyday objects as subjects.
From 1953, he designed and created serial objects stacked in boxes or plexiglas display cases, thus establishing himself as one of the most acclaimed artists of the New Realism.
Always interested in objects and the relationship that modern society has with them, between sacredness and consumption, Arman proved to be a passionate collector of everyday objects (watches, weapons, pens, etc.) and works of art, especially traditional African art.
After high school, he enrolled at the School of Decorative Arts in Nice (now the Villa Arson) and then at the Louvre School. In 1947, he met Yves Klein at the judo school he attended in Nice.
In 1960, Arman used plexiglas for the first time and exhibited Le Plein [Full Up] at Iris Clert gallery (an accumulation of selected waste). This exhibition contrasted with the one organized two years earlier in the same gallery by his friend Yves Klein. That same year, under the direction of art critic Pierre Restany, Arman became, with Yves Klein, one of the founding members of the Nouveaux Réalistes group, along with François Dufrêne, Raymond Hains, Martial Raysse, Daniel Spoerri, Jean Tinguely, and Jacques Villeglé, who were later joined by César, Mimmo Rotella, Niki de Saint Phalle, Gérard Deschamps, and, in 1963, Christo.
From 1961, Arman developed his career in New York, where he lived and worked until 1967, alternating after that between New York and Nice until his death.
His combustion technique dates back to 1964, when Arman was invited to exhibit at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam. A burning 18th-century style armchair he saw in a dump reminded him L’échelle du feu [The Ladder of Fire] by Magritte and inspired him to create
Le Fauteuil d’Ulysse [Ulysses’ Armchair] (1965) in collaboration with Martial Raysse. Later follow the works belonging to the series Colères [Angers], characterized by being broken up and divided into their components.