Please note that there is a loan request for this lot from the Fondazione Palazzo Magnani, Reggio Emilia, Italy for the upcoming exhibition Jean Dubuffet, l'art en jeu, Matière et esprit 1943-1985, running from 17 November 2018 to 3 March 2019.
Jean Dubuffet’s exhibition of his recent works at the René Drouin gallery in March 1946 provoked a huge scandal. It took place right in the middle of the Nuremberg trials, when the French government had just decided to close its frontier to Spain, and Paris was blocked by a worrying amount of snow. Within a few days, René Drouin received dozens of anonymous letters as surprising as they were disturbing. The gallery’s visitor’s book was covered in insults. In the small Parisian art world, this small series of iconoclastic portraits was all that was being talked about, and the critics saw them as a violation not only of the human figure but also of all forms of recognized beauty. The gallery was indeed situated at number 17 of the very chic Place Vendôme, in a space opened on the eve of war by the Parisian decorator René Drouin, in association with a young audacious couple, Léo Castelli and Ileana Sonnabend. A year and half after liberation, the entire artistic community was licking its wounds, ensuring the renewal of sacred Art around the Communist party or responding to the violence enforced upon bodies and minds under the Occupation (with artists such as Giacometti, Richier and Fautrier). The idea of opening a new artistic direction by breaking not only with recent history but also with all forms of tradition was certainly not on the agenda.
In this context, the exhibition Mirobulus, Macadam et CIE. Hautes Pâtes made a lot of noise. Although the artist’s works published together in the first fascicule of his catalogue raisonné under the title of Marionettes de la ville et de la campagne had already revealed a clear anti-cultural tendency, resembling all “other” forms of art such as naïve art or the “anartists” (Artaud, Bryen, Chaissac…); this second publication challenged both the form and the content. Indeed, whilst the previous cycle maintained a link with more traditional painting, through its use of colour and oil paint, Dubuffet here abandoned all traditional techniques, using only “poor” or un-noble materials such as white lead, putty, asphalt, tar, sand or gravel. He avoided no transgressions, and was never discouraged even when he realized that a painting such as Portrait d’Homme moustachu façon carton pate inspired “feelings of terror and aversion in the spectator”, as he wrote that same year.
In the Prospectus aux amateurs de tout genre which accompanied the exhibition catalogue that Michel Tapies wrote concomitantly, the critic insists on the subversive aspect of the series of which Portrait d’Homme moustachu façon carton pate was a part: “it is true that method of drawing is in these paintings shown as altogether exempt of any conventional skill such as we are accustomed to finding it in paintings made by professional painters and there is no need for special studies or congenital gifts in order to make similar works. It is true that the lines and strokes have not been carefully applied but on the contrary give the impression of certain negligence.” And yet, this apparent clumsiness is in no way gratuitous. On the contrary, it is intentional and considered. Because, instead of focusing on a certain idea of the beautiful, the artist favours the image’s communicative function, be it “informel”, by explicitly showing that this power of injunction can grant mankind with new myths.
Trading the paintbrush for the scraper, the knife, the spoon and his fingers in this remarkable high relief Portrait d’Homme moustachu façon carton pate, Dubuffet moved away from the painterly towards the poetic and the mystic. Removing himself from all figurative and aesthetic considerations, he drew closer to a deeper reality close to that of magical effigies, of fetishes which although crude, capture a precise sense of a person. With this Portrait d’Homme moustachu façon carton pate Jean Dubuffet thus accomplished his mission to create an art of materials because “spirituality must borrow from the language of materials.”
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