Sale: Christie’s, New York, Post-War and Contemporary Art (Day Sale), 9 November 2005, Lot 345
Acquired directly from the above by the present owner
Jean Dubuffet rejected artistic traditions, striving to create a unique visual language with which to portray the everyday world. One of the original pioneers, theorists, and collectors of ‘Art Brut’, he was a major force in the recognition and appreciation of outsider art, purposefully infusing his personal style with naïve and unconventional visions of reality. During Dubuffet’s longest series, L’Hourloupe, of which the present work is a part, he forged a new technique founded upon curved biomorphic cellular forms, and executed using a dramatically reduced palette, exclusively using colours attached to the industrial universe such as blue, black, red, and white. Dubuffet had been developing this semi-figurative, semi-abstract body of work since 1962, thus the present work is from its most mature stages. The result is, as maintained by Gaëtan Picon, “a true system, a net in which everything is caught, a grille through which everything is seen, in fact an alphabet, letters and punctuation, with which everything is said: a set of preconditions for imaginative perception, within which it is possible to see everything, and outside which it is not possible to see anything” (Gaëtan Picon quoted in: Exhibition Catalogue, London, Waddington Galleries, Jean Dubuffet, 1972, p. 39). Implicit in this evaluation is the notion of utter absorption, visually and psychically, within the painted surface, a sensation that is inescapable when confronting the present work.
Through its title, Tour (Tower) can be understood as fundamentally architectonic in nature. By this stage of his career, Dubuffet had already advanced his idiosyncratic Hourloupe visual language from drawing, through painting, to sculpture, into large scale public works, and then into architecture; the Villa Falbala is perhaps his most famous building, constructed between 1971-73 in Périgny in the Ile-de-France. If it seems somewhat bizarre that an artist who was so deeply dissident and anti-cultural would turn his hand to an art-form so inextricably linked to structure, tradition, and permanency, then it should be remembered what he sought to achieve within the medium: to “inspire architecture to explore rich possibilities where we would begin to see new structures from which symmetry, rectilinear elements, and right angles would be excluded” (Jean Dubuffet quoted in: Kent Minturn, ‘Jean Dubuffet: architect without walls’, Architectural Review, 29 August 2015, online resource). To this end, the present work almost seems conceivable as an architectural vision; it’s densely interwoven forms and chunky bold motifs, bound together with busy passages of saturated blue and red, combine to propose a fictitious tower, realised according to the Hourloupe image. We are reminded of Claes Oldenberg, whose Proposed Colossal Monument drawings envisioned his quotidian Pop aesthetic, imprinted onto public spaces on an unfeasibly gargantuan scale.
Dubuffet’s ‘Art Brut’ was of course founded on an inherent rejection of academically trained art; he would rather have accepted influence from the work of graffiti writers, prisoners, children and the insane than from those who had been accepted by the canon. However, to assume that he was creating in an artistic vacuum is somewhat churlish. In the staccato junctures of the myriad elements in the present work, and the thick lines that separate the panels of white, blue, red, and black, we are reminded of the artist’s Cubist antecedents. Pablo Picasso and Georges Braques were the leaders of the avant-garde during Dubuffet’s early career in Paris and their method of using multi-faceted pseudo-geometric complexity to imply three-dimensional volume seems directly comparable with the present work. Meanwhile, Robert Delaunay, who worked in a number of styles but whose Cubist works were so architectural in subject matter, also seems commensurately relevant.
Tour is a singular work that is as impressive in scale as it is in style. It should be lauded not only as a superb example of the celebrated Hourloupe cycle, which unshackled the discourse of art from its over-critical over-academic chains, but also a work that encapsulates the interest in architecture that Dubuffet held so dear, and distils the influence that he took from Cubist precedent.
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