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.

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.

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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Online Resources

The museums’ self-guided Art + Science digital tool provides more information on the history of Arp’s Constellations II and its recent restoration.

Watch curatorial fellow Melissa Venator and conservation fellow Madeline Corona explain the creation, evolution, and restoration of Constellations II in a short video on Vimeo.

A comprehensive digital resource launched in 2016 provides access to the museums’ more than 32,000 Bauhaus-related objects and shares scholarship on the school’s extensive ties to Harvard and the Greater Boston area.

Related Exhibitions at Harvard and Beyond

The Bauhaus and Harvard
February 8, 2019–July 28, 2019
Special Exhibitions Gallery, Harvard Art Museums

The Bauhaus at Home and Abroad: Selections from the Papers of Walter Gropius, Lyonel Feininger, and Andor Weininger
January 15–May 31, 2019
Amy Lowell Room, Houghton Library, Harvard University

Creating Community: Harvard Law School and the Bauhaus
February 4–August 16, 2019
Caspersen Room, Langdell Hall, Harvard Law School

The Bauhaus Studio: Primary Materials and Secondary Sources
April 6–May 5, 2019
Harvard Ed Portal

The Goethe-Institut Boston is promoting Bauhaus centennial events at a range of New England institutions, including Radical Geometries: Bauhaus Prints, 1919–33 on view February 9 to June 23, 2019, at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; and Arresting Fragments: Object Photography at the Bauhaus on display March 28 to September 1, 2019, at the MIT Museum.