Arman (Armand Fernandez)

Condition of Woman I


Not on display

Arman (Armand Fernandez) 1928–2005
Original title
Condition de la femme I
Glass, wood, fabric, plastic, cork and metal
Object: 1920 × 462 × 320 mm
Purchased 1982

Display caption

Arman first presented debris as art in his poubelle (dustbin) works in 1959. The objects in this piece are from his first wife's bathroom and are mounted on an ornamental base from his father's antique shop. Objects of intimate personal use have been selected precisely because of their base quality, and are literally 'elevated' on a plinth to become art. Arman raises questions about value, bringing private life into the public domain. Here, he also examines the image of woman constructed by society.

Gallery label, March 2003

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Catalogue entry

Arman born 1928

T03381 Condition of Woman I 1960

Bathroom rubbish in glass case 519 x 371 x 100 (20 7/16 x 14 9/16 x 3 15/16) on Second Empire wooden plinth 1390 x 464 x 320 (54 3/4 x 18 1/4 x 12 5/8); overall size 1920 x 462 x 320 (75 1/2 x 18 1/4 x 12 5/8)
Not inscribed
Purchased from Galerie Tarica, Paris (Grant-in-Aid) 1982
Prov: Purchased from the artist by Jean Larcade, Paris 1961; subsequently sold to Galerie Tarica
Exh: Galerie Rive Droite, Paris 1961; Arman, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam Sept.-Oct. 1964 (15 as ‘Poubelle, condition de la femme no.1'); Arman, Museum Haus Lange, Krefeld, April-May 1965 (16 as ‘Poubelle, condition de la Femme no.1'); Forty Years of Modern Art 1945-1985, Tate Gallery, Feb.-April 1986 (no number)
Lit: Henry Martin, Arman, New York 1984, pp.59-63, pl.51 (col.)

According to the artist T03381 and other related pieces of the time ‘were very radical and a breakthrough for me as a completely new statement'. The related pieces are the refuse and garbage works of that period. The title suggests that T03381 was followed by subsequent work(s) of the same title. This is not the case, although Arman has ‘always intended to create a ‘Condition of Woman II'. He recalls that T03381 was exhibited at Galerie Rive Droite, Paris, in 1961; the particular exhibition has not been identified.

Arman first explored the idea of presenting rubbish as art in 1959. The ‘poubelles' originated alongside two related activities: the ‘colères' (tantrums) in which objects were destroyed and re-presented in fragments, and the ‘accumulations' in which similar or identical objects were presented in a given format. In all these cases the relationship between content and context is primary and all three have their roots in Arman's preceding work, the ‘allures d'objet' in which both fragile and solid objects were covered in paint and imprinted onto canvas. The poubelles are close to accumulations in so far as they are collections and presentations of objects and in such pieces as the table-top containers filled with cigarette butts the relationship is particularly close as the butts are both identical objects which have been collected and garbage which has been discarded.

The most public, dramatic and daring exposé of the ‘poubelle' concept came at the exhibition at Iris Clert Gallery in October 1960 which was titled ‘Le Plein' (Full-Up). The show consisted entirely of garbage piled high in the gallery and was intended as a physical and conceptual counterpoint to Yves Klein's memorable metaphysical statement ‘Le Vide' (The Void) which had taken place two and a half years earlier in the same space, which on this earlier occasion was absolutely empty.

T03381 was made in Nice, in April 1960. The ornamental pedestal came from Arman's father's antique shop and the selected refuse came from Arman's first wife's bathroom. The glass box encases a multiplicity of objects the uses of which are either recognisable or can be deduced from the packaging, brand names and logo types. The collection includes the following items: broken mirror, empty nail varnish bottle, tissues, toothpaste container, stockings, migraine tablets, tampons, Tampax cartons, packets of Durex, loose condoms, cotton wool, silver foil and plastic, miscellaneous wrappers and several unidentifiable bottles and cartons. These items appear to have been spontaneously tipped into the display case; nothing suggests careful arrangement.

The status of the accumulated debris in T03381 is interesting. The individual items are related to each other beyond the fact that they are all discarded. These elements are much more selected than are the objects piled high in ‘Le Plein', yet are much less deliberately selected than items grouped in Arman's accumulations, in which he amassed sequences of similar or matching objects. T03381 is closer in feel to the series of rubbish portraits of friends that Arman created from 1960. Rather than presenting arbitrary accumulations of rubbish these ‘Robot Portraits' present selected items connected with the subject of the portrait, including personal effects, keepsakes and clothes. These things are evidence of the subject's life - his or her profession, emotional state, appearance and taste. This forensic role is emphasised by the fact that these works often look like the discarded contents of a wastepaper basket, and by the titling of such works, in which the subject under scrutiny is named.

The complete identification of qualities such as personality, emotion and sexuality with objects, which is seen in the ‘Robot Portraits,' is reworked in T03381, although here the universal embrace of work offers a generalised notion of ‘an indiscreet view of a woman's private environment'. Much more revealing of the work's more profound implications is the artist's recollection that it ‘triggered a rather violent disagreement between myself and my first wife. Her statement regarding this was, "I am for the ascending metaphor and you obviously, the descending metaphor". She felt it was unsaleable'.

The implications of the title, that the ‘Condition of Woman' is reducable to vanity, sexuality and bodily functions, is thwarted by the majestic presentation of the cabinet on the ornate, Second Empire, base. The contrast between the container of trash and the fine antique was important to Arman in bringing to bear a range of contradictions: old and valuable contrasted with new and valueless, art contrasted with non-art. The presentation of the glass container in this way is as important as the specific gallery context in ‘Le Plein' for, in T03381, the implied status of a museum object is just as direct and full of irony as the sharp equation between rubbish and art in ‘Le Plain'. The work makes a private environment public and maintains the revelatory character that Arman's first wife found so deeply offensive.

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.480-1

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