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Jean Dubuffet at the Barbican is brutal, nasty, brilliant painting

Art, Painting Barbican Centre , Barbican Until Sunday August 22 2021
Jean Dubuffet at the Barbican is brutal, nasty, brilliant painting
Jean Dubuffet 'Paysage aux argus (Landscape with Argus)' (1955) © Fondation Dubuffet, Paris / DACS, London, 2019. Image courtesy of Fondation Dubuffet, Paris

Time Out says

Jean Dubuffet (1901-1985) is not an artist for these times. He appropriated the art of mental patients, he painted women with an almost gleeful aggression, he tore the wings off butterflies and he was a ceaselessly violent painter. The French artist is...problematic.

And at no point did old Jean seem to care. Right from the start in early drawings here (he only became a full-time artist at 41) he paints faces that grimace and scream, figures that twist and bend. His is an ugly world filled with ugly people, and that's how he liked it.

The caricatures of fancy Parisians captured with paint mixed with sand and tar and dirt are nasty, mocking things. His heinous, fleshy, formless women were painted to mock western conceptions of beauty, his landscapes are portraits of minds in turmoil. He finds all this ugliness beautiful and more truthful than any boring old traditional art.

His work gets brighter as he gets older. Less violent and angry too, and it all loses its edge a bit. The Hourloupe works feel a bit empty and dull despite the bursts of primary colour and the 1980s abstracts are just awful. The curators have also tried to wedge in some work by the mental patients and psychics and visionaries he was so inspired by, but it feels too tokenistic to be truly meaningful.

So the downstairs of this exhibition is a bit of a bust. But upstairs, where all the chaos, violence and anger is bubbling endlessly to the surface, you feel like you’re in the presence of something special, a world where ugliness is truly beautiful. This is raw, uncomfortable, problematic, aggressive art, and if you can stomach it, you'll find it’s all the better for it.


Venue name: Barbican Centre
Venue website:
Venue phone: 020-76388891
Address: Beech Street
Transport: Tube: Barbican; Rail/Tube: Moorgate
Price: £18, concs available.

Dates And Times

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