Jean (Hans) Arp (1886-1966)
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Jean (Hans) Arp (1886-1966)

Tête; Objet à traire (Head; Object to milk)

Jean (Hans) Arp (1886-1966)
Tête; Objet à traire (Head; Object to milk)
signed 'Arp' (lower left)
painted collage, gold leaf and fabric on board
14 3/8 x 13 7/8 in. (36.5 x 35.5 cm.)
Executed in 1925
André Breton, Paris, by whom possibly acquired from the artist and until at least 1952.
Galleria Arturo Schwarz, Milan.
Galleria Pieter Coray, Montagnola.
Anonymous sale, Sotheby's, New York, 6 May 2003, lot 36.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
R. Lebel, 'Le Surréalisme à la veille de la guerre, les objets surréalistes', in P. Waldberg, M. Sanouillet & R. Lebel, Dada Surréalisme, Paris, 1981, p. 234 (illustrated; dated '1926').
A. Breton, Surrealism and Painting, trans. S.W. Taylor, London, 1972, p. 45 (illustrated; dated '1929').
D. Ades, Dada and Surrealism, London, 1974, no. 13, p. 61 (illustrated; dated '1926').
B. Rau, ed., Hans Arp, Die Reliefs, Oeuvre-Katalog, Stuttgart, 1981, no. 74, p. 43 (illustrated).
Saarbrücken, Saarland Museum, Surrealistische Malerei in Europa, June - July 1952, no. 1, p. 33.
Milan, Galleria Arturo Schwarz, Arp, May - June 1965, no. 11 (illustrated; dated '1926').
Zurich, Kunsthaus, Dada, October - November 1966, no. 16; this exhibition later travelled to Paris, Musée National d'Art Moderne, November 1966 - January 1967.
Venice, Biennale XXXIV Internazionale d'Arte, June - October 1968, no. 164.
Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's Resale Right Regulations 2006 apply to this lot, the buyer agrees to pay us an amount equal to the resale royalty provided for in those Regulations, and we undertake to the buyer to pay such amount to the artist's collection agent. VAT rate of 5% is payable on hammer price and at 20% on the buyer's premium.


Adrienne Everwijn-Dumas
Adrienne Everwijn-Dumas


'La langue ne vaut rien pour parler
pour parler servez-vous plutôt de vos pieds
que de votre langue chauve
pour parler servez-vous plutôt de votre nombril
la langue est bonne
à tricoter des monuments
à jouer du violon d'encre
à nettoyer des baleines galonnées
à pêcher des racines polaires
mais surtout la langue est bonne
à laisser pendre hors de la bouche
et flotter dans le vent'

(J. Arp, Jours effeuillés, Paris, 1966, p. 156)

Tête; Objet à traire is an extremely lively example of Jean Arp's bustling sense of humour and Dadaist approach to the world. With red eyes, spiky hair and dangling tongue, a face gapes at the viewer with an irreverent smirk. Assembled from disparate materials - gold leaf, cardboard and fabric - and composed out of a very few simple shapes, the work seems to emulate those accidental images created by shadows or water-marks on a table in which the human eye is instinctively brought to perceive a human face. Executed in 1925, the work belongs to Arp's so-called 'Object Language' period, during which the artist returned to the exploration of figures and faces, yet blurring the limits between their human aspect and the realm of objects and natural forms.

Lurking underneath this apparently innocuous, funny image is Arp's own playful assault upon human presumption. The title offers the cue: Tête; Objet à traire, 'Head to milk': what appeared as the casual image of a human head is suddenly transformed into something to touch, to squeeze and pull. The spiky hair doubles as up-turned cow's udders, while the idling fabric tongue suddenly invites the viewer to return its insolence by grabbing it and pulling it. In its exuberance, Tête; Objet à traire conveys Arp's Dadaist mistrust of human vanity and pretension: choosing the golden background of religious icons, Arp made the human face the ironised object of our adoration. As he wrote in one of his poems: 'The tongue is no good for talking () the tongue is good to be left dangling out of the mouth floating in the wind' (J. Arp, 'La langue ne vaut rien pour parler', in J. Arp, Jours effeuillés, Paris, 1966, p. 156).

Although Dadaist in its spirit, Tête; Objet à traire fizzes with associations which would have intrigued the Surrealists. Blurring the boundaries between head and breasts, tongue and phallic symbol, the work inspires a chain of unexpected connections which would have allowed the viewer to access his subconscious. Titillating the viewer's desire and inviting him to touch the work and interact with it, with Tête: Objet à traire Arp foresaw moreover the advent of the Surrealist object of the 1930s. In its perky irreverence, Tête; Objet à traire could not but attract the attention and respect of the 'Pope of Surrealism', André Breton, who was the first owner of the work.