- Jean Dubuffet
- Le Tissu Social
- signed with initials and dated déc. 1977; titled and inscribed no. 67 (partie gauche) on the reverse of the left panel; titled and inscribed no. 68 (partie droite) on the reverse of the right panel
- acrylic and paper collage mounted on canvas, in two parts
- overall: 59 x 205 in. 150 x 520.7 cm.
ExxonMobil Foundation (acquired from the above in March 1979)
Sotheby's, New York, May 10, 2006, Lot 35 (consigned by the above)
Acquired by the present owner from the above
New York, Pace Gallery, Dubuffet - Théâtres de mémoire: Scènes champêtres, paintings and drawings, March - April 1979
Paris, Musée National d'Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Dubuffet, September - December 2001, pp. 302-303, illustrated in color
Max Loreau, ed., Catalogue des travaux de Jean Dubuffet: Théâtres de mémoire, Fascicule XXXII, Lausanne, 1982, cat. no. 70, pp. 74-75, illustrated in color
Laurent Danchin, Jean Dubuffet, Lyon, 1988, pp. 264-265, illustrated in color
Executed in a vast chaotic slew of color, line, and form, Le Tissu Social is mesmerizing in its frenetic intensity and captivating in its layered complexity. This work hovers between abstraction and figuration in a manner idiosyncratic of the best of Jean Dubuffet’s praxis – delineating figures and heads with clarity and purpose in some areas, and yet descending into the untrammelled frenzy of linear Art Brut forms elsewhere. It is impressive in scale and supported by literary references and careful thought; the perfect example of the ways in which Dubuffet loaded meaning into his distinctive visual language.
Le Tissu Social dates from Dubuffet’s Théâtres de mémoire series, completed between 1975 and 1979, examples of which now reside in the Tate Modern, London and the Fondation Beyeler, Basel. These works explored notions of memory, specifically examining how, in visual terms, our recollection differs from our first observation. Thus, where a painting might ordinarily present the viewer with a single isolated snapshot in time from one point of view, in the present work Dubuffet deployed a plethora of images in jumbled layers, presented in imitation of the fluid organic manner of human memory; we see isolated scenes which bear no resemblance or relationship to each other, almost seeming to flood out towards the viewer in waves of visual recollection. This singular series, characterized by this effect, was perhaps best described in a press release from The Pace Gallery, produced for their exhibition of a number of Théâtres de mémoire, in 1977 – the same year as the creation of the present work: “The Théâtres de mémoire are a collage of linear graffiti and images, existing together in a fabric of discordant space and incompatible imagery… these paintings cannot be read in any logical order or with equal clarity. Amorphous forms are juxtaposed with clearly realized images and objects coexist with figures that have no apparent relationship.” (Press Release, New York, Pace Gallery, Jean Dubuffet: Theatres de Memoire, March 1977)
Dubuffet’s technical process for the creation of these works was at once spontaneous and labor intensive. First sourcing, collecting, and cutting out a myriad of images on individual sheets of paper, he then lined the walls of his studio with metal, before arranging each element with magnets, often in several layers. The present work uses 92 different elements, 45 on the left hand panel and 47 on the right, thus imbuing its composition with an amazing sense of laminated depth. Once Dubuffet was satisfied with the arrangement of his paper elements, he would draw a systematic diagram of their exact measured positioning, and recreate the assemblage on canvas.
Conceptually, the Théâtres de mémoire are reliant on a book called The Art of Memory (1966) by Dame Frances Yates, which explores the memory system and the different ways that memory can be retrieved, taking examples and theories from Classical times through to the Renaissance. One example she references is that of Giulio Camillo’s ‘Theatre of Memory’ – a sixteenth century project that hovered between philosophy and architecture. Camillo attempted to build a physical structure out of wood, based on a Vitruvian amphitheatre, through which he could map out the patterns and systems of our memory in real space, rendering them entirely comprehensible and controllable. Not only was Dubuffet similarly interested in architecture in his later career, but he was also fascinated by the theatre – as referenced by the title of the present series. He viewed it as a domain for the exploration of the collective memory of the spectators – a constructed scenario where the same presented fact could be interpreted in a multitude of ways according to each audience member’s personal history: “One must not confuse what the eyes apprehend with what happens when the mind takes it in. In any single instant the eyes see only a side facing them, they converge on a small field. The mind totalizes; it recapitulates all the fields; it makes them dance together… Perhaps we live in a world invented by ourselves.” (the artist cited in Mildred Glimcher, ed., Jean Dubuffet: Towards an Alternative Reality, New York, 1987, p. 19)
Bursting with vital energy and frenetic pace, the composition of Le Tissu Social melds together people, places, and things to formulate a stew of curiosity. Our eyes scatter across the surface, retrieving and attempting to absorb the mélange of images and test our processes of memory and seeing. This work masters the combination of various elements and its bold colors of red, black, green, and blue radiate from the composition. Like a tapestry of urbanity, Dubuffet’s figures are woven together sharing no relative size or stylistic consideration, deftly imitating the flurry of human visual memory.