Combien de marins, combien de capitaines
The Van Abbemuseum Collection consists of over 2800 artworks. We publish texts and images on an ongoing basis, but this record is currently in the process of being documented.
'Combien de marins, combien de capitaines' by the French artist Arman consists of a glass display case which is completely filled with old coffee grinders. Most of these have a natural wood colour. Some have been treated with red, white or green varnish, which has partly flaked off as a result of age and use. The display case stands on a plinth with one of the long sides against the wall. This side has been sealed with a plate of wood painted black.
In his work, Arman examines to what extent an object retains its own identity in a changed context. He belonged to the nouveau réalisme movement, a group of artists which was founded in Paris in 1960 by the critic Pierre Restany. These artists, including Klein, Spoerri, César, Tinguely and Raysse, opposed the Abstract Expressionist style of painting which was fashionable at the time. They worked with unconventional materials such as everyday articles and waste products. In this respect they are related to Pop Art, in which contemporary consumer articles often provide the theme. In the 1960s Arman became well known with his piles of objects from everyday life such as glasses, cogwheels, forks, musical instruments and tubes of paint.
In 1965 Arman started to produce work with the use of stamps. Shortly afterwards he started covering all sorts of objects with paint in order to then press them onto canvas. From 1959 the objects themselves became his material. He emptied dustbins into display cases and stacked up large quantities of similar objects. These piles can be exhibited as freestanding objects. However, usually they are in a display case, like the coffee grinders in 'Combien de marins, combien de capitaines'. Arman leaves the way in which the objects have been piled up entirely to chance. He said “I have always been convinced that objects form their own composition, but also I believe that the expression of waste and consumer articles has a certain worth in itself, directly and without a need for an aesthetic arrangement which makes them unrecognizable and reduces them to the colours of the palette”.
Sometimes Arman burnt parts of his objects or sawed or cut off strips of them and then put them back together again with some space in between. According to Arman, a collecting and destructive mania are typical characteristics of the modern age and form the basis of his works. All the parts acquired in this way are forged together to produce a new whole in which the original parts are not lost but are actually present in an intensified way.
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