Jean Dubuffet, Vont Et Viennent
Contemporary Art

Jean Dubuffet: Founding Father of Art Brut

By Sotheby's
Until 2 September 2019, the MUCEM of Marseille is presenting the large-scale exhibition Jean Dubuffet, a barbarian in Europe. Alongside this major exhibition, five important works by Jean Dubuffet will be offered in the Art Contemporain Evening Sale in Paris on 5 June. Each of these works are representative of a certain period in Dubuffet’s life.

G athering 290 works and objects from the finest European collections, the exhibition explores the artist’s painting, writing and research, and his eventual coining of the term Art Brut. It presents his artistic production in all its diversity, paying attention to objects and documents encountered by Dubuffet on research visits to ethnographic and folk art museums, as well as various collections dedicated to Outsider art.

Mucem Marseille
Mucem, Marseille ©Lisa Ricchiotti Architectes, Rudy Ricciotti and Roland Carta.

In a museum like the Mucem this kind of show questions the porous nature of cultures and challenges the concept of “barbarian” in a new way. At a time when the issues of migration and borders are hotly debated in Europe the theme has poignant relevance.

At times controversial, French painter and sculptor Jean Dubuffet was the founder of the art movement known as Art Brut during the 1940s and a major figure in the story of 20th century art. After a successful career as a wine merchant, he fully dedicated himself to his creative practice in 1942 in the aftermath of the Second World War.

Even though he trained as a traditional painter, Dubuffet maintained an anti-cultural position and became one of the most radical critics of his time. His experiences during the interwar period led him to advocate a ‘deconstruction’ of art history. It was a 1945 visit to a Jean Fautrier exhibition that saw him arrive at his artistic breakthrough.

Dubuffet then began to use non-traditional new material and tools that would have been relatively out of place in the artist’s studio; he incorporated mud, sand, gravel and glass string with oil paint, creating a new hierarchy of materials, and signaling a period of intense experimentation.

Art Brut translates as ‘raw art’, and makes reference to a position outside the traditional parameters of academic classification. The movement’s diversity ranged from graffiti artists and philosophers to ‘outsider’ or naïve art; and from established artists through to lesser-known, untrained practitioners, many of whom were receiving treatment for mental health issues. Dubuffet’s approach questioned and examined the fields of psychiatry, folk arts or ethnography and drew influence from numerous sources, both visual and theoretical.

In these first three paintings from the 1940s/1950s, the artist explores the organic representations of landscapes like a geologist, looking into the vegetable and mineral composition of each element. La Chaise shows the evolution of Dubuffet’s inventiveness and his ability to renew his practices. It is the most symbolic work of l’Hourloupe cycle, which was exhibited during the Venice Biennale at Palazzo Grassi in 1964.

This famous retrospective is the starting point for Dubuffet’s flat areas of colors, blue, red and white surrounded by black to cover furniture, sculptures, monumental installations or painting. In the 1980’s, Dubuffet was still challenging assumptions and accepted ideas about art. In Vont et viennent the artist reconnects with one of his favorite themes, the human figure.

Both the exhibition at the MUCEM and the works offered for auction represent the dynamic breadth of Dubuffet’s practice as a non-conformist whose career underwent constant reinvention.

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