Illustrated companion

Arman was one of the foremost exponents of the New Realist aim to present reality as directly and rawly as possible in art. From about 1959 he developed a number of types of work, dealing with different categories of objects and expressing different themes. Among these were the 'col?res' (tantrums) in which the objects were destroyed and represented in fragments. the 'accumulations' in which similar or identical objects were presented in a glass case or embedded in transparent resin, and a development of the 'accumulations', the 'poubelles' or dusthins, consisting of rubbish. These represented an extreme manifestation of New Realist ideas, and the nature of the rubbish in this example make it of particular interest. 'Condition of Woman I' is related to a group of rubbish works by Arman in which the rubbish, rather than being randomly chosen, consisted of items obtained from friends which were then presented as a form of portrait. The items presented here came from Arman's first wife's bathroom but, as the title indicates, they present a general rather than a particular image of woman. The ornate Second Empire pedestal came from Arman's father's antique shop. The contrast between it and the container of rubbish was important to the artist as presenting for consideration a range of contradictions: old and valuable versus new and valueless, art and non-art. The pedestal also implies in an ironic way that the container of rubbish is a museum object. The feet and shouldered form of the pedestal with the transparent box on top also has an anthropomorphic quality, evoking a human figure. As so often in Pop Art or New Realism the artist here presents striking images or materials with little or no indication of a personal view. What we can be sure of is the artist's seriousness, and it is in that light that we should consider what these objects, in themselves and in their relation to the pedestal, have to say about the condition of woman in our society.

Published in:
Simon Wilson, Tate Gallery: An Illustrated Companion, Tate Gallery, London, revised edition 1991, p.241