Arman (Armand Fernandez)

Bluebeard’s Wife


Not on display

Arman (Armand Fernandez) 1928–2005
Polyester resin and shaving brushes
Object: 835 × 290 × 320 mm
Purchased 1982

Display caption

According to Arman, this work expresses 'a form of contradiction', since the shaving brushes that seem to float within the polyester female torso 'are usually used by men'. The title refers to the folk-tale of Bluebeard, who married and then murdered several women. It is also a pun on the shaving motif. The female figure is reminiscent of both classical sculpture and fashion mannequins, suggesting another contradiction within the work between high art and mass-produced everyday materials. Arman described sculptures like this, incorporating manufactured objects, as 'accumulations'.

Gallery label, August 2004

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Catalogue entry

Arman born 1928

T03380 Bluebeard's Wife 1969

Shaving brushes embedded in polyester 835 x 290 x 320 (32 7/8 x 11 2/8 x 12 1/2)
Not inscribed
Purchased from Galerie Reckermann, Cologne (Grant-in-Aid) 1982
Prov: Private collection, France; purchased by Galerie Reckermann c.1975
Exh: Nice-Milan-Paris-Düsseldorf: Ecole de Nice/Nouveau Réalisme/Zéro: ... Arman (, Galerie Reckermann, Cologne, May-Sept. 1981 (no number, repr. as ‘La Venus aux Blaireaux'); Forty Years of Modern Art 1945-1985, Tate Gallery, Feb.-April 1986 (no number, repr. as ‘Venus of the Shaving Brushes' p.73 in col.)
Lit: Henry Martin, Arman, New York 1973, pp.29-35; Jan van der Marck, Arman, New York 1984, pp.63-72, repr. on dustjacket in col. as ‘Torso With Brushes'

All statements by the artist in this and the following entry were made in a letter dated 23 February 1988 in answer to the compiler's questions. T03380 is an example of an ‘accumulation', a type of work that Arman has continued to explore since 1959. In the earliest examples repeated, similar or identical objects were either fixed to a base or backing or stacked in a seemingly arbitrary way. Arman has made ‘accumulations' from a wide range of artefacts including clocks, violins, coffee pots and cars. Most, though by no means all, of such categories are objects of use, basic extensions to the human body or objects that are productive or have moving parts. They are all manufactured and thus capable of existing in great quantities. Such objects are different in kind to the waste items used in Arman's ‘poubelle' (dustbin) works which he started making at the same time as his first ‘accumulations' in 1959, although they continue to enshrine the concept of waste because, being encased in glass or in transparent Teflon, the objects are forever separated from their function, cut off from their future.

Arman has stated that he started working with polyester in 1963 ‘as a means of embedment ... to create the effect of objects floating in air'. The artist ‘used a disposable mould in Teflon which was later destroyed to retrieve the sculpture. The sculpture was then polished. The polyester used was a ‘"mass cast" polyester which allowed me to cast without superimposition of layers'. The first work that Arman made using this technique was ‘The Small Aleph' 1963 (private collection New York, repr. Martin 1973, pl.100) which embedded ball bearings in a thin slab of polyester.

T03380 is in the form of a female torso, cut off at neck, upper arm and thigh, and is reminiscent of a fashion mannequin. The Teflon form is filled with an unknown number of shaving brushes. The brushes, which vary in colour and design, were bought in ‘job lots' from Canal Street market in New York City, the source of many of Arman's materials when working in New York.

The combination of shaving brushes and female torso expresses ‘a form of contradiction as these brushes are usually used by men' and the title, ‘Bluebeard's Wife' is, like most of his titles, ‘a literary game ... with a pun or witticism on the connotations of finished work.' This confrontation of objects and body was suggested by ‘the general ideas in the works of Magritte regarding a displacement of the significance of the object'. The work has been consistently exhibited and reproduced under a different title, ‘Venus of the Shaving Brushes'. According to the artist he ‘never changed the name' and he does not know when, where, why and by whom the original title of the work was altered.

Although Arman has made several works employing the female torso as a container for objects his ‘accumulations' are generally presented in more neutral, abstract settings. This type of mould was first used in a piece titled ‘La Couleur de mon amour' 1966 (repr. Martin 1973, fig.129) which was made for an exhibition of erotic art at the Sidney Janis Gallery, New York and which set an ‘accumulation' of tubes and blobs of paint in the female polyester form. Other parallel works are: ‘Cold Petting' 1967 (Museum Ludwig Cologne, repr. Martin 1973, fig.137) which used mannequin hands; ‘Venu$' 1970, (collection the artist, repr. Martin 1973, pl.168) which used dollar notes and ‘Peeping Tom' 1978 (Galerie Reckermann, Cologne, repr. Arman, exh. cat. Kunstmuseum, Hanover 1982, p.54 in col.) which embedded a variety of sun glasses.

This entry has been approved by the artist.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1984-86: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions Including Supplement to Catalogue of Acquisitions 1982-84, Tate Gallery, London 1988, pp.479-80

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