By 1930, roughly two years after he disengaged from the Surrealist camp, Arp found himself more and more preoccupied by the expanded volumes of sculpture in the round. Years later he recalled, "Suddenly my need for interpretation vanished, and the body, the form, the supremely perfected work became everything to me. In 1930 I went back to the activity which the Germans so eloquently call hewing" (in Arp, exh. cat., New York, The Museum of Modern Art, 1958, p. 14). It was from this point forward that he learned to transform the biomorphic shapes of his earlier reliefs (see lot 41) into full-fledged sculptural forms. The 1920s had been a richly prolific decade, one in which he absorbed the intellectual precepts of first Dada and later Surrealism and Constructivism. Yet it was during the following decade that he would articulate his mature expressive range and establish the prototypes to which he would persistently return. Finding a touchstone in the eternal process of nature, the sculpture of the second half of Arp's career plays infinite variations on this theme, instinctively recasting its elemental motifs--organic bodies, biological shapes--into integral new forms.
"Though his works are generally shown on a pedestal of some kind," Herbert Read has observed, "from 1930 onwards Arp was working toward a conception of sculpture as a free form with its own centre of gravity and often reversible" (in The Art of Jean Arp, New York, Harry N. Abrams, 1968, p. 92). The horizon of possibility for sculpture understood in this way, as a dynamic body shaped by an inner, organic tension, is superbly manifested by the unifying plastic outline of Colonne de rêve. A prime example of how Arp's guiding gestalt evolved over time, Colonne de rêve marries two formerly discrete objects into a single, cohesive whole, each component inviting the other toward mutual re-configuration. In combining previously self-contained volumes, Arp stimulates a lively dialogue between positive and negative space and the mutability of form, energizing each mass with the passage of light and air opened up around its shape.
Sharing his commitment to a "truth to materials" aesthetic with Moore and Brancusi, Arp sought the fullest expression of his forms through their interplay with the nature of the material. This combination of stone, a natural material with which Arp was generally most at ease, and bronze, which he began to use after 1941, is unique in his body of work. In the lower section, the sharp angularities and torsion of the adolescent body play beautifully on the luminous surface of bronze. The carved limestone above takes a gentler counter-twist, gravitating upwards in measured movement; the eponymous column encourages comparison with Brancusi's Endless Column, whose virile architectonics it counters with permutations of organic growth.
Arp's ability to apply his process of transfiguration not only within form but across material is distinguished, epitomizing the universal morphology of his forms. This principle of metamorphosis underlies his creative process, whose amorphous quality Arp emphasized: "Often some detail in one of my sculptures, a curve or a contrast that moves me, becomes the germ of a new work... Sometimes it will take months, even years to work out a new sculpture... Each of these bodies has a definite significance, but it is only when I feel there is nothing more to change that I decide what it is, and it is only then that I give it a name" (quoted in op. cit., p. 87).
(fig. 1) Constantin Brancusi, Endless Column, 1918. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. BARCODE 26007243