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Artist’s critique on automobile’s role in consumerism becomes consumer item itself

Published in blog.hemmings.com

Images courtesy Artcurial.

While Dustin Shuler’s “Spindle” literally skewered automobiles for the sake of art, Arman’s “Long Term Parking” took a more figurative approach to critiquing automobiles as items of mass consumption, one that the artist never intended to move from where he installed it. And yet, one of the artist’s own not-so-massive replicas of the sculpture sold this week for more than $70,000.

By the early 1980s, Arman – born Armand Fernandez – had not only become firmly entrenched in Dadaist “ready-made” philosophy and the Nouveau Realisme movement, he had also developed a signature style of large public sculptures, typically made from discarded items arranged in repeating patterns.

“The main characters of his works were objects that he looked for in the garbage,” Helena Pereira wrote for Daily Art Magazine. “He used what he found to show the society he lived in but also some of his friends. The garbage we left shows the person/society we are. This made him reformulate what portraits were.”

While he often incorporated broken violins into his sculptures, Arman used pretty much anything he could get his hands on: discarded chairs, stopped clocks, gas masks. One of his earliest works in this vein, a response to Yves Klein’s minimalist “The Void,” incorporated an empty gallery filled to the brim with litter and garbage that Arman collected from the streets.

“After my own emptiness comes Arman’s fullness,” Klein wrote. “The universal memory of art was lacking his conclusive mummification of quantification.”

Arman had conceived the “Hope for Peace” monument – which embedded military vehicles and hardware in a concrete column – sometime in the early 1970s, but it was an idea that proved difficult to sell. Somewhat easier was the idea of embedding a stack of automobiles in a 60-foot-tall concrete column; the Cartier Foundation for Contemporary Art, then located in France’s Jouy-en-Josas commune, agreed to let Arman install his sculpture on the grounds of the Château de Montcel.

According to Pereira, Arman put some thought behind the cars he’d use in the sculpture, spending time in the area to document the cars he’d typically see in traffic there. He then sourced 60 of the same cars from a local junkyard – among them, a Honda S800 coupe, a Citroen DS21, a Citroën Traction Avant, a Mini, a smattering of Fiats and Renaults and Peugeots, and even a 1963 Buick – and had them repainted in bright colors before stacking and embedding them in 40,000 pounds of concrete. Unlike Wolf Vostell with “Concrete Traffic,” Arman wanted to leave the cars at least partially exposed, in part to directly convey that the once functional cars would now never be able to serve that function, and in part to encourage their decay over time, until all that remains of them are their impressions in the concrete.

“What embedding objects in something else does is to change the time of the object,” he said of “Hope for Peace” after its installation in 1995 outside of Lebanon. “Instead of a present object, you have a fossil of the object, as you might find an organic fossil in a rock formation … Objects are by their nature rather impermanent, and I like that, and I also like fossils.”

While The Art Story described “Long Term Parking” as the culmination of Arman’s Accumulations series, Arman did go on to complete “Hope for Peace” in 1995 and create a series of eight smaller sculptures in 2001 also titled Long Term Parking. The smaller version, which measures 45 centimeters wide by 145 centimeters tall, still relies on 50 to 60 brightly colored cars embedded in cement but replaces the full-size versions with toy cars of the type seen in any supermarket or gift shop.

The smaller version of “Long Term Parking” is one of eight works by Arman (a list which includes “Sans Titre – 1971,” a squashed toy police car) that crossed the block as part of Artcurial’s 20th Century Art, 1950 to Present auction on August 16. Estimated to bring €50,000 to €70,000 (about USD$58,000 to 81,000), it sold for €62,400 (about USD$72,000), premiums and taxes included. For more information on the auction, visit Artcurial.com.