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Full House - New York Times - DEC. 4, 2010 - (2010-12-16)
 


Down by the Hudson in an old Manhattan pickle factory lives a widow surrounded by a tyrant’s ransom in broken violins. Armand Fernandez, known as Arman since the day a printer left the “D” off his name in a catalog, was a founding member of the midcentury French New Realists and one of the giants of 20th-century art. His medium was objects and his process a focused attack that he called “the pinnacle of a catharsis.” His friend, the painter Yves Klein, told him when they were young, “I’ll take what’s organic, you take what’s manufactured.” Klein invented his iconic International Klein Blue and died young; Arman squared off in violent yet precise acts against violins and guitars, shower hoses, sofas, paint tubes, bicycles, motorcycles, cars and statues, which he smashed, flattened, burned, sawed in half, cast in bronze and sliced, or sank into Perspex or concrete. His 1961 manifesto was titled “The Realism of Accumulations,” and when he wasn’t destroying to create, he made harmonic sequences, set on wooden panels, of musical instruments (whole or chopped), watch faces, trumpets, ladles, gas masks, typewriters, saws and paintbrushes. An Arman retrospective, at the Pompidou Center in Paris through Jan. 10, gives some idea of his range, output and influence on artists as diverse as Jeff Koons and Damien Hirst, but it cannot, for practical reasons, include his 106-foot-high “Hope for Peace,” a concrete tower in Beirut, Lebanon, in which he buried 78 tanks, jeeps and various pieces of artillery.


Arman’s process, his life and his home were all ruled by the constant motion of objects, in and out, a rise and fall of accumulated things, from garbage to supplies to art to treasure. The son of a Nice antiques dealer, he was also an unstoppable collector with a judicious eye who gathered the best examples of everything — food, art, guests. An invitation to dinner from Arman and his wife, Corice, meant a home-cooked feast with the famous amid a profusion of treasures.

Five years after Arman’s death, Corice Canton Arman is resuming the dinner parties-cum-salons that the couple used to hold. A compact, energetic and stylish woman in her early 60s, Corice currently has bright blond hair. “I used to change my hair color all the time,” she says, “but the day I dyed it red and wore green contact lenses, Arman said, ‘If I’d wanted to marry an Irish girl, I would have.’ ”

Corice Canton was born in St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands and moved to New York at the age of 2. She went to Paris to work in fashion, and was dancing on a lily pad in a Kelly green dress in a nightclub in the South of France in 1968 when Arman spotted her and fell in love. Corice was 21 and engaged to someone else, but that didn’t deter the 40-year-old artist, who courted her long-distance with flowers and music. “He’d send me records from New York. . . . I remember when I got Procol Harum’s ‘Whiter Shade of Pale.’ ”

They married in Nice in 1971 and lived between Vence, in the South of France, and New York, where their children, Yasmine and Philippe, were born. “The first thing he made for me,” Corice says, “was my portrait for my birthday.” Two wooden Andy Warhol Brillo boxes and a great deal of African art followed them from Arman’s suite at the Chelsea Hotel to Church Street, then to West Broadway and, 25 years ago, to an industrial building near the Hudson River. “When we bought the place,” she recalls, “my mother came and said, ‘These pillars are familiar. This place . . . I worked here when it was a pickle factory!’ ”

Below the living space are warehouse floors full of works in transit between exhibitions: a table broken in two and bronzed is crated in yellow foam; there are bronzed broken violins, part of Arman’s “Multiples” series, a television split in half with Budweiser cans in the middle, a bronze cast of an incinerated sofa, paintbrushes set on yellow and gray paint. “Things go out on loan, and you fill the space with something else, and you think you’ll put it back where it was, but you never do,” Corice says.

The living quarters open with a foyer where two full suits of samurai armor stand guard, alien shapes in dark steel, lacquered wood and leather. Arman’s Japanese obsessions were judo and the game of Go, which threatened to take over his life until he tore himself away. The same thing happened with West African art, which was his passion, then his specialty, then his expertise; he was on the brink of completing a book about African art when he realized he’d strayed too far from his real work, and stopped. Corice persuaded him not to sell his entire collection. He kept the masterpieces, which are on show in the living room, and moved on to collecting watches and knives, which are not. Also hidden away — 104 on shelves in the office and 39 in the back stairwell — is a collection of radios from the 1930s and ’40s, made of bright Catalin plastic in delicious shapes and colors. Asked if they work, Corice says: “Of course they work; if they don’t work, it’s not a collection, it’s junk.”

Bookcases full of African statues and New Zealand tikis (jadeite creatures with shell eyes) lead past a huge weathered Ijo ancestor figure to a vast living room overlooking the river, where seven Tiffany lamps rise up in a space as ordered and mad as any you can imagine. Above the Ijo, on the wall, is a small Christo package, contents unknown; on the floor are the scuffed Brillo boxes; and on the far wall is an eight-panel Warhol, with four portraits each of Arman and Corice, from 1977 and 1987. Corice is in bright colors, Arman, unusually for Warhol, mainly in black and white, dark-eyed and bearded, looking astute and sagacious. A huge Nok terra-cotta statue from Nigeria faces the Hudson, and another stands by the fireplace; they’re each 2,500 years old. Several heads, statues and reliquary figures are arrayed on shelves; others reside in glass cases as mathematical Arman assemblages. In the middle of the room is a sofa made of guitar and violin cases. “Arman used everything,” Corice says. “He started working with violins in the ’60s, and after he’d bought up all the bad old ones, he bought new ones made in China. Nothing went to waste, so he made the sofa with their cases.”

Corice bustles past her housekeeper, Zophia, and her driver, Jan, carrying a giant Gallé vase to the front hall. She bought peonies, yellow roses and brown calla lilies at the flower market this morning. “I learned flower arranging when we were in Japan in 1970, but less is more? I never actually understood that concept.”
Multimedia
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Video: Corice Canton Arman

There are 18 people expected for a sit-down dinner tomorrow night, and she’s cooking. In the kitchen, an industrial refrigerator already holds the charlotte au chocolat, and on the stove, a well-worn pot holds the consommé that is the subtle, sneaky masterpiece of the meal. A stock made from roasted vegetables and veal bones is boiled with chopped meat, celery and tomatoes. “Then you put the eggshells in it, and they make all the grease rise to the top — it’s magical,” Corice says as she whips egg whites into a froth, throws in a pile of broken shells and pours the whole thing into the pot. After half an hour, the mess has formed a fascinating crust, thick with soup debris. The more it cooks, the more the crust absorbs. Once she has run it through a sieve, it will be as clear as glass.

“I love entertaining, and I love cooking ” she says. “If you pull people out of their comfort zone, you owe them a good meal.” She wasn’t always good at haute cuisine. Her first time at La Coupole, she ordered ris de veau, expecting rice and veal, not sweetbreads. Arman’s parents taught her to cook. By the time the legendary chef Roger Vergé came to lunch at their house in the South of France, she was confident enough to show off: “I decided to do a whole meal based on oranges. Tomato and orange consommé, poulet a l’orange, orange flan. He loved it. I never did it again — I never had anyone to impress after that.” Vergé gave her the run of his kitchen at the Moulin de Mougins.

She likes to shop at Fairway on 132nd Street and at Ottomanelli Brothers for meat. A few missing items — “I hate not having a lot of food” — mean a quick run with the driver to the TriBeCa Whole Foods for zucchini, scallions, peppers and veal bones. After hours surrounded by Arman accumulations, a shelf of leeks in Whole Foods suddenly looks both harmonious and disturbingly dramatic; one leek has broken ranks and is leaning to the left. Corice stops to take it in: “That is so Arman,” she says.

Arman loved tools; when he moved to New York in the 1960s, he haunted Canal Street for materials and bought massive amounts of things to line up in repeated series. In his studio a few blocks away, he chopped, sliced, peeled and flayed objects as unwieldy as entire motorbikes on a behemoth of a machine called a DoAll.

In her kitchen, Corice pulls out a case from a drawer and unwraps a knife, its wooden handle set with brass and bone, with a whale engraved on the blade. “This is my favorite knife,” she says. “I don’t let anyone use it — Arman bought it for me.”

He once came home with a bag full of vintage cookbooks from Joanne Hendricks on Greenwich Street. “This is old school and fabulous,” Corice says as she opens “The Gourmet Cooking School Cookbook,” by Dione Lucas and Darlene Geis. It’s covered in Scotch tape and bristling with Post-its, and begins with a quote from Thomas Wolfe: “There is no spectacle on earth more appealing than that of a beautiful woman in the act of cooking dinner for someone she loves.”

It took Corice four years after Arman’s death before she could feel comfortable in Vence again. “Even here,” she says, “I thought I’d change things, but he’s omnipresent.”

The next evening the guests arrive, in a monsoon. Among them are John McEnroe; Agnes Gund, the president emerita of the Museum of Modern Art; and Maria Cooper Janis, the daughter of Gary Cooper and wife of the pianist Byron Janis. There’s the Broadway legend Geoffrey Holder and his wife, Carmen de Lavallade; the art photographer Ralph Gibson and his wife, the designer Mary Jane Marcasiano; Mary Schmidt Campbell, the dean of the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University, and her husband, George Campbell Jr., the president of Cooper Union; Judith Price, president of the National Jewelry Institute, and her husband, Peter, who collects African art. Also there are Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe, the widow of Arthur Ashe; Catherine Verret-Vimont, who ran the French film office in New York; and the etiquette expert Faye Rogaski.

“You usually see great masterpieces in public places like museums, never in people’s houses,” says Gibson, pointing out a Tang horse head in a corner. “Arman and I traded portraits once,” he adds. “I took his photograph; I wasn’t expecting anything, but a few weeks later, he sent me a Speed Graphic camera cut in half and glued to the canvas, with about 100 yellow paintbrushes. The irony is that I’d learned photography in the Navy on a Speed Graphic.”

The kitchen was now filled with people arranging the delicacies that Corice had composed, and once the tiny half tomatoes with pesto and Gorgonzola had been consumed over drinks, everyone sat down in the dining room.

Which is no ordinary place.

The prize pieces in any African art collection are Bakota reliquary figures from Gabon. Twenty-one of them are grouped on ledges in the dining room, each one a masterpiece. On another wall, a long Arman piece displays guitars cut in half, then quarters, then eighths — “like music,” as Corice points out. Beneath them are samurai warrior headdresses, which Yasmine’s first-grade classmates thought of as Darth Vaders — improbable shapes in dark coppery browns. Across the room is a vitrine of Cycladic figures and ancient Chinese bronzes. Against one wall stands a screen by Max Ernst, and on the floor are rugs by Arman with stains woven in, each identified in running script: chocolate, ice cream, ketchup. Glass tabletops are set on sawn-apart and fanned-out bronze cellos; the chairs are more bronze cellos. The cutlery too is by Arman, shaped like the bridges of stringed instruments.

Picasso’s son Claude once told his father that he preferred Matisse’s house to Picasso’s, “because, in his house, it’s like his paintings.” Arman’s house, five years after his death, is a living Arman.

source : new york times
 
 
 
 
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