Shirtfront and Necktie
Earlier this year, the museum made an important step in strengthening its collection of avant-garde art from the early twentieth century when it acquired Jean Arp’s assemblage Shirtfront and Necktie from 1927–28. Poet and artist Jean Arp (1886–1966) was a key member of a transnational avant-garde that—formed in the crucible of World War I and disillusioned with rationality, materialism, and mechanization—broke decisively with aesthetic convention. In 1916, while living in Zurich, Arp participated in Dada-related activities at the Cabaret Voltaire. While living in Paris in the 1920s he came under the sway of the Surrealists, and his work was included in the first group exhibition of Surrealist art at Paris’s Galerie Pierre in 1925.
Arp was one of the first artists to embrace two of the avant-garde’s most important inventions: collage and abstraction. In 1916–17 he began to produce painted relief sculptures, using mostly wood and, slightly later, cardboard. Shirtfront and Necktie is one such relief, and it was created toward the end of Arp’s association with Surrealism. An emphatic organicism characterizes Arp’s reliefs from this period; their field of reference also includes objects from everyday life, especially clothes, which Arp has made strange and unfamiliar, imbuing the nonhuman with a kind of vitality. The work was also inspired by Arp’s study of the Neolithic wall carvings at Locmariaquer, in Brittany. Its composition echoes one carving in particular, from a section of the ruins called the “covered bent path of the flat rocks.” A photograph of and a drawing after the carving were published in Marthe and Saint-Just Péquart and Zacharie Le Rouzic’s 1927 book on Locmariaquer, Corpus des signes gravés des monuments mégalithiques du Morbihan, which Arp likely read.