By Karen Rosenberg, November 8, 2012
Over the next year art lovers will have many chances to explore the roots of 20th-century abstraction, including at the Museum of Modern Art’s coming “Inventing Abstraction” and a pair of exhibitions devoted to the Armory Show of 1913. They can get an early start at this Jean Arp (1886-1966) show, which hinges on a late print project but finds Arp sticking to his early-Modernist vocabulary of floating, biomorphic shapes.
The focus is a set of colored-paper collages and a matching series of painted-wood reliefs, the bookends to a 1966 album of woodcuts titled “Le Soleil Recerclé.” (Arp made the collages to test out designs for the prints; later, in a resourceful move, he fashioned the reliefs from the wooden printing blocks.)
At the gallery these two playful bodies of work, the cardboard and the wood, face off from opposing walls. They show squiggles, teardrops and jigsaw-puzzle-like pieces all nesting within circles of contrasting color. Sometimes the forms seem to be dividing, like embryos, or breaking off into smaller fragments — tensions that are more pronounced in the wood versions.
Two earlier wood reliefs use a black-and-white palette to more sculptural effect; they mix nicely with a voluptuous white marble sculpture, “Feuille Se Reposant” (1959). But the show’s theme of continuity across mediums is defied, brilliantly, by two late-1950s works in brass; their spiky points show Arp’s friendly blobs evolving into something more specific to the material at hand.