Hans Arp’s Constellations II

, University Research Gallery, Harvard Art Museums
  • Hans Arp relief as displayed in Harkness Commons Dining Room, Harvard University, c. 1950. Stiftung Arp e.V., Berlin/Rolandswerth. Photo: D. H. Wright.

  • Abstraction, Study for Harkness Commons Mural, Harvard University

    Abstraction, Study for Harkness Commons Mural, Harvard University

  • Abstraction

    Abstraction

  • Constellations II

    Constellations II

    Walter Gropius commissioned this relief for a dining room in the Harvard Graduate Center's Harkness Commons, which opened in 1950. The tables and chairs soon damaged the lower parts of the relief, prompting Arp to rearrange it in 1958 to a more compact configuration titled Constellations II. Although Arp referred to the work as a relief, it is closer in form and spirit to installation art. In a relief, the design is carved from and fixed to its ground; in Constellations II, 13 of Arp's signature biomorphic shapes executed in American redwood attach directly to the wall. Their installation across two walls surrounds the viewer to create an immersive space.

  • Abstraction, Study for Harkness Commons Mural, Harvard University
  • Abstraction
  • Constellations II
University Research Gallery, Harvard Art Museums

This exhibition presents the room-sized wall relief Constellations II by Alsatian artist and poet Hans Arp (1886–1966); it is the work’s first public viewing in 15 years. Commissioned for the Harvard Graduate Center by Harvard architecture professor and Bauhaus founding director Walter Gropius, the relief’s 13 panels were first installed in 1950 on facing walls of a popular dining room in Harkness Commons (now the Caspersen Center). Arp described its biomorphic shapes as primal forms inspired by nature, a connection made clear in the title of the work, which evokes a grouping of stars in the night sky. Constellations II inaugurated a new chapter in Arp’s postwar practice. It was his first large-scale, site-specific artwork and led to others, including a metal relief for the UNESCO headquarters in Paris.

By 1958, heavy use of the Harkness dining room had caused damage to the relief, prompting a new placement of the work above table height. Subsequent painting campaigns transformed the panels’ stained redwood finish to gray-blue, then to white, and back to natural. With the cooperation of Harvard Law School, which transferred the relief to the Harvard Art Museums in 2017, the Straus Center for Conservation and Technical Studies undertook a yearlong conservation initiative to restore the work to its original finish.

The presentation of Constellations II coincides with The Bauhaus and Harvard, the museums’ Spring 2019 special exhibition mounted in conjunction with the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Bauhaus. The exhibition features nearly 200 objects from the Busch-Reisinger Museum’s historic Bauhaus collection. Explore more about the Bauhaus centenary: bauhaus100.com

Curated by Melissa Venator, 2016–19 Stefan Engelhorn Curatorial Fellow in the Busch-Reisinger Museum.

Support for this exhibition was provided by the Daimler Curatorship of the Busch-Reisinger Museum Fund, the Charles L. Kuhn Endowment Fund, and the Care of the Busch-Reisinger Museum Collection Endowment. Modern and contemporary art programs at the Harvard Art Museums are made possible in part by generous support from the Emily Rauh Pulitzer and Joseph Pulitzer, Jr., Fund for Modern and Contemporary Art. We also wish to thank our colleagues at the Harvard Law School for their collaboration.

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Related Exhibitions at Harvard

The Bauhaus at Home and Abroad: Selections from the Papers of Walter Gropius, Lyonel Feininger, and Andor Weininger
January 15–April 6, 2019
Amy Lowell Room, Houghton Library, Harvard University