Jean Dubuffet, the outsider looking in

Art, Mixed media
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Jean Dubuffet Gardes du corps, 1943 (detail) 
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Jean Dubuffet Mêle moments, 1976 
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Jean Dubuffet Coucou Bazar, 1972-1973 Installation view, Collection Fondation Dubuffet, Paris

Two major exhibitions on Jean Dubuffet run simultaneously in Switzerland, one on the artist in Basel, the second in Lausanne at the Collection de l’Art brut.

The Beyeler Foundation in Basel presents a stunning panorama of paintings and sculptures by Jean Dubuffet (1901-1985) one of the most indefinable artists of the 20th century.

Under the theme Metamorphoses of Landscapes, the Beyeler show illustrates how the leitmotif of landscapes that runs through Dubuffet’s work was a testing ground for his multiple experimentations and breaks in style.

The curatorial reasoning is in fact somewhat odd, because even women’s bodies in Dubuffet’s characteristic granular, almost muddy style, are considered to be variations on the same theme of the landscape…

On the other hand, the artist’s innovative approach, perhaps because he had no training, and his keen sense of humour, are apparent throughout.

Solitude and freedom

“Dubuffet only became an artist when he freed himself of the idea that we would become one,” said at the opening the president of the Parisian Dubuffet foundation, François Gibault.

A wine merchant by trade, Dubuffet decided only at the age of 40 to become a painter. “He was a complete anarchist who only did what he pleased, without worrying what others might think.”

“Solitude and freedom are the two words that characterized him,” Gibault continued.

Surprisingly, the show’s curator, Raphaël Bouvier, has chosen to ignore Dubuffet’s role as the first collector of art brut. And yet the artist's own status as an outsider looking in (to the closed world of art) may well have been at the root of his own, very free artistic choices and his affection for the likeminded spirits whose works he started to collect (see next post: Jean Dubuffet, the insider looking out).

The spectacular Coucou Bazaar

Apart from an impressive collection of Dubuffet’s paintings, including the early Gardes du Corp never exposed before, Beyeler Foundation presents the spectacular Coucou Bazaar created between 1972 and 73, shown only for the fourth time. Composed of over 100 larger than life-size figures in the artist’s hallmark flat, almost cartoon-like style, the multimedia work came alive when figures, actors clad as sculptures, detached themselves and moved in a slow ballet to music.

At Beyeler, only two figures perform on Wednesdays and Sundays during the exhibition; for conservation reasons, Coucou Bazar can no longer be enacted in its entirety, so this is a rare occasion to come under the spell of this singular work.

By: Michele Laird

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