gigatos | January 3, 2022
Jean Dubuffet, born on July 31, 1901 in Le Havre and died on May 12, 1985 in Paris 6e, is a French painter, sculptor and visual artist, the first theorist of a style of art to which he gave the name of “art brut”, productions of marginal or mentally ill people: paintings, sculptures, calligraphies, of which he admits to have been largely inspired.
On October 20, 1944, the first “outstanding exhibition” in liberated Paris was that of his works at the René Drouin gallery, when he was still an unknown painter, causing a real scandal. He is also the author of vigorous criticism of the dominant culture, notably in his essay, Asphyxiating culture (1968), which creates a polemic in the art world. On the occasion of the first exhibition of his collection of art brut that he organized in 1949, he wrote a treaty, L”Art brut préféré aux arts culturels.
Officially propelled to the forefront of the artistic scene by a retrospective of 400 paintings, gouaches, drawings, sculptures, which takes place at the Museum of Decorative Arts in Paris from December 16, 1960 to February 25, 1961, the most contested and most admired French artist of the post-war period creates the event of this beginning of year. He became the inspiration for many artists, followers of the “other art”, variant of the art brut, among which Antoni Tàpies, as well as followers of the artistic protest as the Spanish group Equipo Crónica.
His work is composed of paintings, assemblages often wrongly called collages, sculptures and monuments, the most spectacular of which are part of a group, L”Hourloupe (1962-1974), as well as architecture: the Falbala closery and the Falbala villa. He has been the subject of retrospectives at the Palazzo Grassi in Venice and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum.
His personal collection, the Collection de l”Art Brut, which since 1945 had brought together artists discovered in prisons, asylums, and marginalized people of all kinds, and which was then the property of the Compagnie de l”Art Brut founded in 1948, should have remained in Paris. But the procrastination of the French administration led Dubuffet to accept the offer of the city of Lausanne in Switzerland, where the collection was installed in the Château de Beaulieu and definitively donated.
Considered as not very friendly, procedural, atrabilary, he was often angry with his entourage. Before Dubuffet”s death in 1985, Jean-Louis Prat had all the trouble in the world to organize the retrospective of 150 paintings of the artist, which was finally held from July 6 to October 6 at the Maeght Foundation.
On the other hand, he was generous, as his friends, Alexandre Vialatte, Alphonse Chave, Philippe Dereux, testify, and the numerous donations he made during his lifetime, among others, a set of 21 paintings, 7 sculptures and 132 drawings to the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris, from his personal collection.
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The man who seeks
Son of Charles-Alexandre Dubuffet and Jeanne-Léonie Paillette, wealthy wine merchants, Jean Dubuffet belongs to the good bourgeoisie of Le Havre. He entered the Lycée du Havre where he did all his secondary studies. Among the students of the high school are Armand Salacrou, Georges Limbour and Raymond Queneau. Dubuffet was not passionate about his studies. He preferred drawing and enrolled in the second year of high school at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts du Havre, which also had Georges Braque, Raoul Dufy and Othon Friesz among its former students. In the summer of 1917, he took classes with Hélène Guinepied, in Saint-Moré (Yonne), who taught her method of free drawing on a large scale, known as the Helguy Method, and counted Gaston Chaissac among her students.
After passing his baccalaureate, he enrolled at the Académie Julian in Paris. When he realized that he preferred to learn alone, he left the academy and established a studio at 37, rue de la Chaussée-d”Antin, in an outbuilding of the family business. Suzanne Valadon and Élie Lascaux introduced him to Max Jacob, Charles-Albert Cingria and Roger Vitrac. Although he met Fernand Léger, André Masson and Juan Gris, Dubuffet chose to live as a recluse and to study languages. He also tried his hand at literature, music and dispersed himself.
“I was looking for the “Entrance”. But it didn”t feel right; I had the impression that I wasn”t adapted to my human condition, I had in the background a kind of anguish that it all didn”t weigh much.
He travels in Italy and Switzerland, looking for his way. He is convinced that Western art is dying under the proliferation of more or less academic references: “Post-war painting is indeed a reaction against the audacity of the beginning of the century. He decided to devote himself to commerce, and after a business trip to Buenos Aires, he returned to Le Havre where he worked in his father”s business. He married Paulette Bret (1906-1999) in 1927 and decided to settle in Bercy, where he founded a wholesale wine business. But after a trip to Holland in 1931, his taste for painting returned and he rented a studio on rue du Val-de-Grâce, where he worked regularly. In 1934, he put his business under management and devoted himself to new artistic experiments. He was looking for a new form of expression. He started making puppets and masks sculpted from face prints. He set up his workshop at 34, rue Lhomond and he plans to become a puppet showman.
In reality, Dubuffet is an autodidact, which explains his curiosity for the findings of “non-cultural” artists, for the “art of fools”, and his revolt also against the art of the museums which will earn him multiple enmities born of multiple battles.
“Naive is the idea that some poor facts and some poor works of the past times that have been preserved are necessarily the best and the most important of those times. Their preservation results only from the fact that a small cenacle has chosen and applauded them, eliminating all the others.”
Discouraged, Dubuffet resumed his commercial activity in 1937. He divorced Paulette in 1935. In 1937, he married Emilie Carlu, born on November 23, 1902 in Tubersent and died in 1988 in Cucq, two years after resuming his commercial activity, in 1939, and that same year he was mobilized to the Ministry of Air, in Paris. But he was soon sent to Rochefort for indiscipline. At the time of the exodus, he took refuge in Céret where he was demobilized. He resumed his business in Paris in 1940. But in 1942, he decided for the third time to devote himself exclusively to painting. Dubuffet was a “quasi clandestine” painter, according to Gaëtan Picon.
He produced several paintings, the first truly important of which was Les Gardes du corps, an oil on canvas (113 × 89 cm, private collection), considered the starting point of the work. At the end of the same year, his friend Georges Limbour, who bought him Les Gardes du corps, brought him out of his “clandestinity” by introducing him to Jean Paulhan. Dubuffet, who had just moved into a new studio at 114 bis, rue de Vaugirard, had already produced a number of paintings, notably gouaches: Les Musiciennes (65 × 47 cm). Through Jean Paulhan, he participated in the exhibition “Le Nu dans l”art contemporain” (The Nude in Contemporary Art) at the Drouin Gallery with Femme assise aux persiennes (May 1943), an oil on canvas (73 × 68 cm). In July, at the same gallery, he presented Vingt et un paysages and Paysage herbeux et terreux.
The Bodyguards mark a brutal break in the artist”s painting, moving away from the concern for resemblance of his previous paintings. This work is considered by Gaëtan Picon as “spirits drawn up at the threshold of the work to announce its spirit, they are high bulwarks marked with its sign”.
The other outstanding work is Métro (March 1943), an oil on canvas (162 × 180 cm), featuring good men and women squeezed together like herrings, with huge noses and funny hats. Dubuffet chose raw colors laid quickly on the canvas. “The artist, who has always had the ambition to paint the man in the suit, plans to make a small album on this theme, composed of lithographs, the text of which will be written by Jean Paulhan. On this theme, he will make a series composed of oils and gouaches, sometimes isolating two characters. His other theme of inspiration is the crowd that he initiated with The Street (March 1943), oil on canvas (92 × 73 cm), which will be exhibited at the Drouin Gallery in 1944 and in January 1950, at the Pierre Matisse Gallery in New York. A theme that he later took up in a new style: Rue passagère (1961), oil on canvas (129.3 × 161.7 cm).
Dubuffet”s first solo exhibition at the René Drouin Gallery, then located at 17 Place Vendôme, included 55 oils and 24 lithographs dated October 1944. The preface to the catalog was signed by Jean Paulhan.
Dubuffet”s works exhibited between 1944 and 1947 at the Drouin Gallery were colourful, “barbaric” and delirious, with which some art lovers became enamored, while the majority of the public cried provocation and imposture. The following exhibitions: “Mirobolus, Macadame et Cie”, “Hautes Pâtes”, received the same controversial reception. Dubuffet answers the detractors:
“It is true that the manner of drawing is, in these exhibited paintings, quite free from any agreed skill as one is accustomed to find in paintings made by professional painters, and such that there is no need of any special studies, nor of any congenital gifts to execute similar ones. It is true that the tracings were not executed with care and meticulousness but give the impression of negligence. Finally it is true that many people will feel at first, at the sight of these paintings, a feeling of fear and aversion.
The artist, who nevertheless has a solid knowledge of art (he studied at the Beaux-Arts in Le Havre), remains steadfast in his anti-cultural will. In these exhibitions, he presents works that play with gaucherie, the scribble, the raw material where the origin of art is found. These works recall the drawings of children and also, for Dubuffet, the importance of the works of the mentally ill of which he is a great collector and from which he admits to have been inspired. ” Hautes Pâtes ” presents works of dark colors, muddy or in thick paste.
“I hold for idle these kinds of skills and gifts, It is true that the colors which are in these paintings are not bright and clashing colors as it is currently fashionable, but that they stand in monochrome registers and ranges of composite tones and so to speak, unnameable.
To tell the truth, Dubuffet does not seek to please. He does not even try to sell, since he is free of all material needs thanks to his family fortune. He seeks and searches, in search of a new plastic way that a few rare initiates appreciate strongly. Francis Ponge, Paulhan, Limbour, and soon others, like André Breton, will support his approach. But in the meantime, on October 20, 1945, “the first significant exhibition in liberated Paris at the Drouin Gallery was that of an unknown artist, Dubuffet, whose deliberate clumsiness caused a scandal such as had not been seen for a long time. The gallery received anonymous letters, the guestbook was covered with insults.
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Evolution of the painter
It is only in this form that the artist conceives creation. Dubuffet refuses the idea of gift, the vocation-privilege and its implications. Undoubtedly the gift is replaced by the “work” of which he gives a particular definition. But it is especially the fact that an artist can have the “happy hand” which seems important to him:
“Such a painter summarily smearing a light tone over a previous dark tone, or vice versa, and in such a way that the caprices of the brush make the undersides play, will obtain, but on the condition of having a happy hand, an enchanted hand, a much more effective result than such other painter exhausting himself heavily to combine during weeks of laboriously concerted nuances.
From 1947 to 1949, Dubuffet made three trips to the Sahara, notably to El Goléa, attracted by a “clean slate” that the artist needed to complete his “deconditioning”. Because in spite of his research to free himself from any influence, Dubuffet still runs up against certain limits, notably the furious scandal caused by his exhibitions. In the desert, he finds the “nothing” on which he can build. From this period date Marabout, Arab, fettered camel (Crouching fettered camel (Traces of footsteps on the sand, pen drawing (16 × 14.5 cm).
From his third trip, he draws landscapes: White landscape (Landscape with three characters (Landscape jumble (1949), oil on canvas (116 × 89 cm). He also made three sketchbooks “of admirable dexterity”: El Goléa I, II and III, some of which he gave to MoMa: Arab, Marabout and Traces in the Sand (1948), ink on paper, El Goléa II (20 × 16.2).
In Prospectus aux amateurs de tous genres, the artist speaks of these “magical materials that seem to have a will of their own and so much more power than the concerted intentions of the artist. All the effort of the artist tends towards a deconditioning. For he cannot deny, at forty years old, having received this conditioning. He must fight against the Occident and the values of the XXth century. At the beginning of the 1960s, in a letter to the Italian art critic, Renato Barilli, he refused to be confused with the painters of the material who only followed his work from 1950, whose shock effect in New York as in Paris was very great. He himself abandoned this direction which was becoming, from his point of view, conventional.
In 1947, the artist made an exhibition of portraits of his friends he made between 1945 and 1947: Portraits by Dubuffet, a series of portraits of artists including Francis Ponge, Jean Paulhan, Georges Limbour, Paul Léautaud, Jean Fautrier, Henri Michaux, Antonin Artaud, André Dhôtel, Charles-Albert Cingria, Henri Calet, Jules Supervielle and many others in a style that André Pieyre de Mandiargues described as “barbaric tenderness” :
“Portraying his friends with a kind of barbaric tenderness, he sticks them on the wall! Inscribed as if by a nail point in the smoky plaster, these are the best portraits of modern times.”
Of Jean Paulhan, with whom he exchanged a voluminous correspondence from 1945 to 1968, he made, as early as 1945, multiple portraits, which the Metropolitan Museum of Art has evaluated at 27.
Dubuffet considers that a portrait does not need to show many distinctive features of the person depicted. He treated them in a spirit of effigy of the person, without the need to push the accuracy of the features very far. Even using a process to prevent resemblance.
Between 1950 and 1951, there was little innovation in the painter”s techniques, with the exception of his “emulsion paintings. The main part of his production is a set of landscapes, Paysage grotesque violâtre, (March 1949), gouache (20 × 26 cm), Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris, and especially the series of Corps de dames, works in which the head is only a tiny excrescence, while the body is disproportionately swollen. The subject is treated with different materials, in drawings with Indian ink, pen and calamus (1950, 27 × 31 cm), Fondation Beyeler Basel. But also in watercolor and oil on canvas: Corps de dame, pièce de boucherie (1950), oil on canvas (116 × 89 cm), Fondation Beyeler, with legs shortened to the extreme. There are also some still lifes, the Tables, as if Dubuffet was tempted to mix the human and the thing: The Metafisyx (1950), oil on canvas (116 × 89.5 cm) is again a variation on the body of ladies whose form he retains.
From 1951, in Paris, and in New York, where he lived from November 1951 to April 1952, Dubuffet worked on paintings in heavy masonry, in thick paste triturations with reliefs. This is the series of Sols et terrains, Paysages mentaux.
“I had the impression that some of these paintings resulted in representations that can strike the mind as a transposition of the functioning of the mental machinery. That is why I called them Mental Landscapes. In many of the paintings in this group, I have subsequently oscillated continuously between the concrete landscape and the mental landscape, sometimes approaching one, sometimes the other.”
In 1951, that year, Dubuffet published a book on the painting of Alfonso Ossorio with whom he had become very friendly, and whom he admired because his painting was a “subtle machine for conveying philosophy. Until 1953, he remained on this theme of the “mental” with Sols et terrains, Terres radieuses, with “pâtes battues”, colors used in thick pastes from which the young American artists were inspired. The one that René Huyghe described as “Doctor Knock of painting”, this painting that Henri Jeanson described as “cacaisme” in Le Canard enchaîné, brought a technical renewal that was to set a precedent.Les Pâtes battues form a series of about fifty paintings, few of which remain in their primitive state because Dubuffet realized that by taking up and completing his works, he was obtaining particular effects.
“The technique consisted of lightly caressing the painting after it was dry, with a broad flat brush, with tones, gold, bistre, which bound the whole. The brush thus lightly rubbed only catches the reliefs, while letting the colors of the previous painting fuse a little. It is not only once that I had to walk my broad brush on the painting, but several. Of all that, resulted a fine golden powdering, as shadowy, fed of the interior of a strange light.
The following year, Dubuffet launched into three-dimensional objects, “sculptures” made of a little of every material, fragments of natural elements, and which are rather assemblages that he presented in October-November at the Left Bank Gallery, such as L”Âme du Morvan (1954), vine wood and vine shoots mounted on slag with tar, rope, wire, nails and staples (46.5 × 38.9 × 32.4 cm), Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. These are the Small Statues of Precarious Life, conceived after a series of assemblages with butterfly wings, then a series of assemblages of pieces of cut paper, then statuary assemblages that approach art brut with humble materials. These are small figurines such as The Duke, The Ragged, based on sponges, charcoal, clinker, root, stone, Volvic stone, filasse, slag, in a sort of rehabilitation of decried materials.
In the summer of 1954, his wife was ill and had to take a cure in Durtol in the Puy-de-Dôme. Jean rented a house there and during this period, he devoted himself to landscapes and a series of very humorous cows, among which is The Cow with the Subtle Nose, preserved in the Museum of Modern Art in New York. The following year, the couple moved to Vence.
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The Vence period
The painter himself describes his installation in Vence: “At the end of January 1955, the doctors recommending the habitat of Vence for my wife, I moved there with her. I had some difficulty in finding a place suitable for my work. At first, I only had a small, cramped studio, so I organized a project to assemble prints in Indian ink. This was a period of preliminary research for Dubuffet, which led to a second series of small works of butterfly wings, then to the Monolithic Characters, and to the Floor Prints with which the artist made assemblages by cutting out panels painted in advance. Or, he keeps these panels when he likes them, which leads to paintings like the series of Roads and Pavements which is part Sol du chemin très usagé, le jardin de pierres à Vence, oil on canvas (89 × 116 cm).
After two years, Dubuffet”s research led to other series of “terrains” that he classified under the headings: “Topographies”, “Texturologies”, “Matériologies”, “Aires et sites”, the results of which would surprise the public once again.
“Of all the research that Jean Dubuffet carried out, the series of Texturologies and Matériologies is the one that aroused the most defiance and the most ridicule. This is perhaps because it marked the ultimate point (and perhaps the most accomplished) of his experiments on the gaze and on things. Dubuffet had finally made what he had always wanted: dream machines with indistinct dust sheets. With the Texturologies, he reached the heights of the most arid, but also of the most poetic abstraction. On the contrary, with the Matériologies, he revealed the interloquent virtues of the elementary concrete “
– Daniel Cordier.
Dubuffet speaks of “dessin au petit point” when he describes his works from 1958 to 1959, which are “Empreintes texturologiques” on paper, “obtained for the most part with black oil paint, sometimes taking the form of fine networks of intersecting lines.
More precisely, the series of texturologies extends the research “Soils and grounds” begun in the early 1950s. They are oil on canvas “in small point” that give the effect of a starry material, as Chaussée urbaine mouillée (1957), oil on canvas (80 × 100 cm), or Texturologie XVIII (Fromagée) (1958), oil on canvas (81 × 100 cm).
The Matériologies are works made with the most elaborate materials. Some are made of crumpled and painted silver paper elements, glued and assembled on isorel panels. Others are made of thick triturations of paper mache, applied to Isorel panels or wire mesh, some include paper mache masticated on plastic paste: Joies de la terre, 1959, paper mache tinted in the mass in light sepia tones (130 × 162 cm), Vie minérale ardente (1959), silver paper (54 × 65 cm), Messe de terre (1959), paper mache on Isorel (150 x 195 cm).
The works from this period will be exhibited in Paris at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in 1961 along with other works from his earlier periods. On this occasion, Dubuffet is again “the only artist by whom the scandal still happens. In front of the retrospective, which includes four hundred paintings, gouaches, drawings, sculptures and assemblages, the public and part of the critics are still wondering: charlatan or genius? Dubuffet was sixty years old at the time, his research proceeded in cycles of prodigious creative power. Some want to see in Dubuffet a second Picasso, the two artists having in common the constant renewal of their means of expression.
Until 1960 and in the following years, in Vence, Jean”s production will be abundant, one finds small statues in crumpled silver paper, or in papier-mâché colored in the mass with inks, and sometimes repainted with oil, as well as assemblages of natural elements. In 1960, Daniel Cordier became his dealer for Europe and the United States. Dubuffet moved to a new house in Vence, Le Vortex. He now lived between Vence and Paris. During the Vence period, he met Philippe Dereux with whom he formed a strong friendship, and for whom he created a large butterfly in watercolor in memory of the “small paintings of butterfly wings.
During this period, Dubuffet also developed a strong friendship with Alphonse Chave, whom he saw practically every day for ten years. In 1995, the Chave gallery organized a retrospective, bringing together letters from the artist to Philippe Dereux, texts by Dereux, and by his very close friend Alexandre Vialatte, in particular the reproduction of an article written for the newspaper La Montagne in 1959 in which Vialatte declared: “The production of Jean Dubuffet is mysterious. A considerable but expensive literature describes it, celebrates it, numbers it. All his work is a kind of counter-sky: a story full of spelling mistakes; of deliberate and sought-after mistakes; he does not tell it, he mumbles it, .
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Dubuffet new way
Dubuffet is, from 1962, followed by other painters, notably Antoni Tàpies who came to “other art”, as Michel Tapié defined it in his homonym essay L”Art autre incluant les trouvailles de Dubuffet. Also in 1962, during the summer, he stayed in Le Touquet-Paris-Plage, in his new villa-workshop Le Mirivis, allée des Chevreuils, where he made, between July 15 and 25, a series of drawings with a red and blue ballpoint pen, which accompanied by names and texts in an imaginary jargon, would become a small book that would give its title to the cycle of L”Hourloupe (1962-1974) During the summer of 1963, still in Le Touquet-Paris-Plage, he painted the great landscapes of the Pas-de-Calais, including The Road to Étaples. Later, in 1971, he would inspire the Spanish protesters of Equipo Crónica, one of whose bravura pieces is the painting Celui-là ne m”échappera pas, which shows CRSs ruthlessly grabbing an Hourloupe-style character. In the 1970s, Dubuffet also created “Praticables et costumes” for the show Coucou Bazar.
To celebrate the fortieth anniversary of Coucou Bazar, the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris is exhibiting Coucou Bazar”s cut-outs and costumes from October 24 to 1, 2013.
The “new Dubuffet” is also characterized by incessant renewal. Starting with L”Hourloupe, which he will decline the cross-hatched drawings in paintings of cut-out assemblages. About these assemblages, the painter specifies well that it is not a question of “collages as those of the movements dada, surrealists, and cubists who consisted in juxtaposing elements of meeting objects not made by the artists themselves and intended for a quite other use than artistic. The intended effect resulted precisely from the completely non-artistic character of these objects and the surprise provoked by their use in a work of art. My assemblages were made in a completely different spirit, since they were paintings made up of pieces taken from paintings previously made by myself for this purpose. Dubuffet also becomes a sculptor, and he creates monuments or architectures that are “habitable sculptures”.
In 1964, Dubuffet showed his recent work at Palazzo Grassi during the Venice Biennale. He broke away from Matériologies and ground studies to work on the theme of urban fabric, crowds, all tangled up in bright colors and sinuosities as : Legend of the Street. The works in this series, which includes paintings, colored inks, sculptures and assemblages, are gathered under the name of L”Hourloupe, a word composed of the word “loup” and “entourloupe” according to Jean Louis Ferrier and Yann Le Pichon. Various interpretations are given according to the biographies on the birth of this style and the origin of the name that was given to it. The text of the Dubuffet foundation explains it thus: “The word “Hourloupe” was the title of a small book recently published in which appeared, with a text in jargon, reproductions of drawings with red and blue ballpoint pens. I associated it, by assonance, with “howl”, “hoot”, “wolf”, “Riquet à la Houppe” and the title Le Horla of Maupassant”s book inspired by mental distraction”.
Gaëtan Picon sees it as a continuation of Matériologies and Paris-Circus, of which Légende de rue is a part, Paris-Circus being the set of paintings about crowds and the city.
“While answering the phone, Jean lets his red ballpoint pen run over the paper, hence the semi-automatic drawings that he stripes with red and blue. Cutting out these figures, he then places them on a black background and pulls out a small 26-page book of jargon-filled text, each page adorned with a ballpoint pen drawing.”
It is through the stripes that Dubuffet then brings together his figures. These are dancing drawings: Dancing Principle of Hourloupe (1963), oil on canvas (Caballero (1965), vinyl on canvas paper (99 × 68.5 cm). From 1965-1966, he engaged in painted cut-outs and transfers of vinyl paints on laminated resin, resulting in volumes to which he gave the name “monumented paintings”. A set of painted sculptures exhibited from December 1968 to February 1969 at the Jeanne Bucher Gallery, which published a catalog. These painted sculptures are then collected by Max Loreau under the title “Sculptures peintes” in the catalog of works by Jean Dubuffet, volume 23, with texts by Gaëtan Picon and Jean Dubuffet.
According to Gaëtan Picon, L”Hourloupe “is at an impassable distance from art brut. Dubuffet doubts that this is to his advantage, as if he regrets so many detours and so much research as if he should have started there, as if he would have preferred that L”Hourloupe be a beginning and not an end.
Cuckoo Clock Bazaar, presented for the first time during a retrospective of his works at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum from May to July 1973, is an “animated tableau” comprising a set of “praticables” on which the artist did a great deal of research based on his Hourloupe sculptures, as well as on “hourloupe costumes”. It is a ballet of sculptures, paintings, and hatched costumes. The music is by İlhan Mimaroğluu, a Turkish composer of electronic music, the choreography is by Jean McFaddin. Dubuffet invents a kind of commedia dell”arte whose actors are his own sculptures, in the hashed out style. It is like a sort of Grand Guignol where each element moves very slowly. The dancers ” entourloupés “, hidden in the praticables, execute a way of macabre dance for deceased society. Between sacrificial ceremony and Noh theater, this animation of gigantic sculptures wants to be, according to its creator “a reanimation of the static arts”, of which Dubuffet says “the painting can be a subtle machine to convey the philosophy”.
From 1966, Dubuffet moves on to volume creations. At first, they are objects: chairs, telephones, furniture trees with drawers, tables. Then buildings: La Tour aux figures (classified as a historical monument), the Castelet l”Hourloupe, Château bleu, Jardin d”hiver. Of the Tower of Figures, Dubuffet says: “Paradoxically erected in heavy and massive monument, it is the dreamy paths of thought that translate these graphics.
Sculptures and installations are “monumental paintings”: L”Aléatoire (Borne au Logos V (1966), polyester (100 × 50 × 50 cm). This passage in volume is the decisive avatar of his work, with expansions in colored polyester. He always wanted to “get out of the picture”, he abandons oil for painting with vinyl, with marker. He learns to master polystyrene, polyester, epoxy, sprayed concrete and polyurethane paints.
In 1967, Dubuffet undertook the construction of the logological cabinet which was later installed in the Villa Falbala, itself built to house him. The Closerie Falbala, classified as a historical monument, and the Villa Falbala form a whole that Dubuffet built and expanded from 1970 on. The following year, he built the model of the Enamel Garden, which was completed in 1974. In the meantime, in Périgny-sur-Yerres the artist expanded his space and built new studios where he worked on the realization of the Group of Four Trees, commissioned by banker David Rockefeller of the Chase Manhattan Bank in New York, to decorate the Chase Manhattan Plaza. These epoxy sculptures were inaugurated in 1972.
In the same period, between 1968 and 1970, he worked on Jardin d”hiver, a habitable sculpture kept at the Centre national d”art et de culture Georges-Pompidou, whose visual and description can be found on the Virtual Pompidou Center”s notice.
In 1974, the Régie Renault commissioned him to create a summer exhibition, the work on which began in 1975 in the Renault buildings in Boulogne-Billancourt. This episode will be stormy, as summarized in the newspaper Libération. The work having been interrupted on the orders of the new president of the Régie, Jean Dubuffet embarked on a trial which led him to appeal, to the Supreme Court and which ended in 1983 according to Libération, in 1981 according to the Collectif de l”exposition de Carcassonne. Jean will not continue the work of the Salon d”automne. He had other commissions, notably the Manoir d”Essor for the Louisiana Museum in Humlebæk, Denmark, which he completed in 1982.
In 1983, Dubuffet inaugurated in Houston (Texas) his Monument to the Ghost built in 1977 in the Discovery Green of Houston Texas. In 1984, he inaugurated the famous Monument to the Standing Beast in Chicago, Illinois, for which he had designed the model in 1969. At the end of 1984, Dubuffet decided to stop painting and in 1985 he wrote his Biographie au pas de course.
Jean Dubuffet died on May 12, 1985 in the 6th arrondissement of Paris and was buried, with his wife, in the Tubersent cemetery.
As part of the foundation he created in November 1974, Jean Dubuffet bought a piece of land in Périgny-sur-Yerres (Val-de-Marne), where Marino di Teana”s studio is located. Many of Dubuffet”s works are stored in Périgny under the auspices of the foundation, including the model of the work that was intended for Renault Boulogne-Billancourt. The foundation”s headquarters are in Périgny, but it is also located in Paris at 137, rue de Sèvres, where it offers abundant documentation.
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The collection of Jean Dubuffet
In 1922, Jean Dubuffet was already interested in the work of Dr. Hans Prinzhorn who had collected the works of his mental patients, constituting a Museum of Pathological Art in Heidelberg. He had also discovered the exhibition of the psychiatrist Walter Morgenthaler, chief physician of the Waldau Clinic near Bern. In 1923, Dubuffet completed his military service in the meteorological service of the Eiffel Tower or, according to his biographers, in the meteorological company of the Fort de Saint-Cyr. He knows the illustrated notebooks of Clémentine R. (Clémentine Ripoche), a demented visionary who draws and interprets the configuration of clouds. That same year, the International Spiritualist Federation was founded in Liege. Dubuffet is also interested in certain works from the Heidelberg collection that were exhibited at the Kunsthalle in Mannheim. 1923 was also the year of Louis Soutter”s internment, whose work Dubuffet would not discover until 1945.
On August 28, 1945, Dubuffet baptized “art brut” an art that he had been collecting for several years, an art that included both the art of the “insane” and that of marginal people of all kinds: prisoners, recluses, mystics, anarchists or rebels. Thanks to his friends Jean Paulhan and Raymond Queneau, he discovered the creations of self-taught or psychotic adults. And it was Paul Budry, who had spent his childhood in Vevey, who put him in contact with the Swiss medical circle. Dubuffet then undertook with Paulhan his first three-week exploratory trip to Swiss psychiatric hospitals. During a second trip to Switzerland, and after exchanging numerous letters with Paulhan, Dubuffet meets the Geneva psychiatrist Georges de Morsier, whose patient, Marguerite Burnat-Provins, interests the painter for his research on Art Brut. In September of the same year, he visited Antonin Artaud, who was interned in Rodez. Doctor Ferdière advised him to visit the asylum at Saint-Alban-sur-Limagnole where Auguste Forestier was interned. He visited other psychiatric hospitals and prisons, met writers, artists, publishers, as well as museum curators and doctors, notably Le cabinet du professeur Ladame.
The first Fascicule de l”art brut entitled Les Barbus Müller, et Autres pièces de la statuaire provinciale, written entirely by Jean Dubuffet, is printed by the Gallimard bookshop, but will not be published. It will be reprinted and published in Geneva in 1979 by the Barbier-Mueller Museum.
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The company of the art brut and the collection of the art brut
In 1945, Dubuffet published Prospectus aux amateurs de tous genres and Notes aux fins lettrés, in which he made it known that it is not easy to innovate behind Kandinsky, Klee, Matisse or Picasso. He therefore proposes to explore unknown territories. Starting from the formless, “to animate surfaces, to represent aberrations in the choir of the work of art to count with the chance”.
By “art brut”, Dubuffet designates the art produced by non-professionals working outside the agreed aesthetic norms, who have stayed away from the artistic milieu, or who have undergone a sufficiently strong social and psychological rupture that they find themselves totally isolated and start to create.
Dubuffet organized several exhibitions of works from his collection between 1947 and 1951. First in the basement of the Drouin Gallery, which became the Foyer de l”art brut. Then, in 1948, the Foyer was transferred to a pavilion of the Nouvelle Revue française, 17, rue de l”Université (Paris). The Foyer then became the Compagnie de l”art brut, whose founding members were Jean Dubuffet, André Breton, Jean Paulhan, Charles Ratton, Henri-Pierre Roché, Michel Tapié and Edmond Bomsel, later joined by Jean Revol. The painter Slavko Kopač assumes the role of curator of the Collection.
The title “Art brut” was first given in 1949 to an exhibition of artists gathered by Dubuffet at the Drouin Gallery. On this occasion, Dubuffet wrote the exhibition catalog which included 200 works by unknown artists from his collection and published a treatise: L”Art brut préféré aux arts culturels, which caused a scandal.
“Real art is always where you don”t expect it. Where no one thinks of it or says its name. Art, it hates to be recognized and greeted by its name. It runs away immediately. Art is a character passionately in love with incognito. As soon as one detects it, it flees by leaving in its place a laureate figure which carries on its back a big sign where it is marked Art, that everyone sprinkles at once of champagne and that the lecturers walk from city to city with a ring in the nose.
In the preface to the book L”Art brut by Michel Thévoz, Jean Dubuffet specifies that his collection is largely made up of “non-standard” artists but, according to him :
“To define a common character of these productions – some have sought to do so – is meaningless because they respond to positions of mind and keys of transcription in infinite number, each one having its own status invented by the author, and their only common character is the gift of borrowing other ways than those of the approved art.”
In the same preface, Dubuffet warns against the false idea that one makes of the madness, against the fact that the inclination to deviate from the norms, cultural or other, is, with regard to a social morality, justifiable of the internment, thing which concerns only the psychiatrist.
In 1952, the company moved to the United States to East Hampton, New York, in Suffolk County, on Long Island, to the home of Alfonso Ossorio. It consisted of about a thousand drawings, paintings, objects and sculptures, most of which were the work of mentally ill people. It was kept in six rooms on the second floor of Ossorio”s large house. Ossorio and Dubuffet first met in Paris in 1949, when the American-Filipino painter was in London. Curious to see an artist so disparaged, Ossorio asked to see more of Dubuffet”s paintings and formed a strong friendship with him. Ossorio, painter and collector, is very rich, which explains the luxurious property in which he lives. He is very generous and organizes several exhibitions. But Dubuffet warns him: his generosity risks masking his work as a painter, which is indeed the case; his painting will remain little known.
Repatriated to France, where Dubuffet was looking for a place to exhibit it, his collection was first installed in 1962 in the building at 137 rue de Sèvres, which was the headquarters of the Fondation Dubuffet. In the following year, new pieces were acquired and in 1967, the collection had 5,000 subjects by about 200 authors. Drawings by the Lonné factor were purchased at once, as well as the first painting by Augustin Lesage. The works of the collection will be exhibited that year at the Museum of Decorative Arts in Paris, in the most important exhibition of art brut ever organized. A catalog is published, Dubuffet signs the preface, “Place à l”incivisme” in which he declares in conclusion: “Not only do we refuse to pay reverence to the only cultural art and to consider less acceptable than his works which are presented here, but we feel quite the contrary, that these last ones, fruit of the solitude and of a pure creative impulse are of this fact more precious than the professional productions. In 1964, the first two issues of the Company were published, in which the life and work of all the artists in the collection were presented. The public can thus discover Augustin Lesage, The Prisoner of Basel (Joseph G.), Clément, the letter carrier Lonné Palanc the writer, Adolf Wölfli and many others. These publications have continued irregularly until the present day, when issue no. 24 has just been published.
Dubuffet wanted his collection to remain in Paris. He had been made several promises, none of which were kept. Faced with the procrastination of the French administration, Dubuffet finally accepted the offer of the city of Lausanne, which offered ideal conditions for the conservation of this treasure, to which he never hid the fact that his art owes so much.
It is also in 1971 that is written an exhaustive catalog of the collection, listing 4 104 works of 135 authors of “pure” art brut, that Dubuffet must distinguish for ethical and ideological reasons of a collection “annex” (called “New Invention” in 1982), where the authors are closer to a professional approach, and where we count then 2 000 other works. Work of Jean-Joseph Sanfourche, touches Jean Dubuffet, during long years, the two men maintain an epistolary relation. Sanfourche feels close to the master of the art brut, as he explains it in 1980.
On February 28, 1976, in the presence of the municipal authorities, the installation was inaugurated in Lausanne at the Château de Beaulieu, an 18th century mansion. Michel Thévoz was the faithful curator of the Collection de l”art brut until 2001.
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The influence of Dubuffet
Dubuffet was the first theorist and the most important collector of art brut, but also, under his impulse several variations of marginal, unconventional, or playful arts appeared, which bear different names but which, all, are variations of art brut.
In 1971, Dubuffet met Alain Bourbonnais, an architect, creator and above all a passionate collector of popular and marginal art who, on Dubuffet”s advice, called his collection “art hors-normes”. This collection, started at first with artists indicated by Dubuffet, often mentally ill as Aloïse Corbaz, deviates little by little towards a form of more playful art. He himself creates the Turbulents of enormous good men or good women. He installs his collection, more oriented towards spontaneous art, in the Atelier Jacob, rue Jacob. Michel Ragon joins the adventure, but, as he describes it himself, the Atelier Jacob has the defect of being an art gallery. I often pestered him to escape the conformism and ambiguity of an art gallery by transforming it into a cabinet of curiosities. He has done better, since he has decided to create a unique ensemble for his collections: La Fabuloserie. Thus, the Jacob workshop, very active from 1972 to 1982, moved in 1983 to Dicy in the department of Yonne in the Burgundy-Franche-Comté region where it became La Fabuloserie, a “country museum” installed in several buildings, presenting another form of art brut rather oriented towards a popular art. “The originality of Dubuffet”s and Bourbonnais”s research was the unearthing of these “innocents” who are located on the margins of the history of crafts as well as the history of art.
In addition, two important exhibitions reveal the art brut, the art “hors-norme” and their declensions to the general public. In 1978, “Les Singuliers de l”art” was presented at the ARC (Animation, Recherche, Confrontation), the contemporary department of the Musée d”art moderne de la ville de Paris. It includes plastic works selected by Suzanne Pagé, Michel Thévoz, Michel Ragon and Alain Bourbonnais. But also audiovisual realizations which also make discover the “Landscape dwellers” the “Working gardens” and the “Builders of the imaginary”, this exhibition will give place to the creation of the movement of the “Art singulier”. In February 1979, in London, the exhibition “Outsiders” organized by Roger Cardinal offers works which are other declensions of the art brut. In the presentation of the catalog of the exhibition of London, the poet and gallerist Victor Musgrave situates the term outsider: “Since Dubuffet named the raw art, others followed him, as Alain Bourbonnais, with criteria a little different. We too, in the present exhibition, have deviated slightly from raw art, but not much, with notably Scottie Wilson, Henry Darger.” These “outsiders” will make the link with American outsider art.
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Writings, illustrations, lithographs
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Bodies and figures were a subject of Dubuffet”s research that would lead to the Corps de dames, a variety of Nanas that can be found in Niki de Saint Phalle”s early works. The proximity between Niki”s early “personified” works, and Dubuffet”s painting was highlighted many times, in 2014, during the exhibition of the Franco-American artist at the Grand Palais, in Paris. Le Nouvel Observateur wrote thus: “The exhibition also presents for the first time a monumental metal sculpture, Le Rêve de Diane, where the influence of Jean Dubuffet, for whom Niki had great admiration, can be read.” In fact, Dubuffet”s ladies” bodies are “good women,” while the figures or “portraits” of people are “good men” in the manner of children”s drawings. “Psychoanalysts say that you have to kill a child to make an adult. Dubuffet is one of those who escaped the massacre or who did not capitulate. He remains capable of reactivating his own childish dispositions, but with the formidable efficiency of an adult, against the cultural evidence.”
This is one of the most interesting periods of the artist who wanted, as Daniel Cordier announces in the introduction to the catalog, “his work to be a celebration of the elemental, the decried, the discarded”. It includes assemblages of paintings, Chinese inks on paper, oils on canvas, prints and lithographs. The artist classifies his works in categories from 1955: Texturology, Materialology, Topographies, Roads and pavements, which declines the imprints of the material of soils and grounds, executed in Vence. This series also includes Les Phénomènes (1958-1962), a series of lithographs on the subject of soils and terrains considered by Michel Thévoz as a “lithographic adventure”, in which Dubuffet engaged with the feeling of “escaping from the verbal categories which, according to him, condition our thought”. The period of research on prints includes other series executed in Paris, Vence, and New York: prints of butterfly wings, animal prints including La Vache (1954), gouache on paper (32.6 × 40.2 cm), Centre Pompidou, purchase 1983, as well as landscapes, and portraits.
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Correspondence, illustrated writings (chronological order of publication)
See the entire bibliography of Jean Dubuffet including letters and illustrated writings at the Dubuffet Foundation
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The complete list of all Jean Dubuffet”s personal positions until 2014 can be found on the website of the Pace Gallery in New York, now the PaceWildenstein Gallery, which has five exhibition venues, three of which are in New York, where Jean Dubuffet was exhibited from 1969: “Simulacra”, from November 8 to December 10.
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