A celebration of art that was never intended to be art
Two major exhibitions on Jean Dubuffet run simultaneously in Switzerland, one to celebrate the collector and the 40th anniversary of the Collection de l’Art Brut in Lausanne, the second a tribute to the indefinable artist at the Beyeler Foundation in Basel.
Collection de l’Art Brut celebrates its 40th anniversary with brio by revisiting the first public event that defined art brut. In 1949, Jean Dubuffet presented at Gallery René Drouin in Paris the burgeoning collection of works that he considered worthy of artistic recognition, but none of which were made by trained artists.
“It was a manifesto against official art,” explains museum director, Sarah Lombardi. Among the 150 pieces drawn exclusively from the Collection de l’Art Brut holdings, we find naïf and ethnic art, as well as drawings by children. It is a mumble-jumble of works that appear to come straight out of people’s minds.
Over the years Dubuffet refined the concept of ‘art brut’, the term he had coined - also referred to as ‘outsider art’ - and narrowed his selection to works made by individuals who lived outside social conventions and norms, many of them confined to psychiatric institutions.
Aloïse, the nanny who endlessly drew her love for Emperor Wilhelm II in brilliant colours and Adolf Wöfli, who created an alternative world after he was interned for indecent exposure, were among Dubuffet’s first discoveries.
We have over time become accustomed to art brut, but what a shock it must have been to the visitors of the Parisian gallery, a shock that we experience again on the occasion of the Lausanne revival. It is difficult to imagine what they thought as they discovered art that was never intended as art.
Dubuffet had himself become an artist only at the age of 40, following a career as a wine merchant and with only sporadic attempts at art training. He worked outside the mainstream and his keen interest in the spontaneous artistry of others was often mirrored in his own explorations.
When he worked as an artist, he was the outsider looking in. When he collected, he was the insider looking out.
The Lausanne museum was founded in 1976 to house Dubuffet’s seminal collection after he donated it to Switzerland, when neither France, nor the US showed an interest to keep it. A remarkable catalogue published on the occasion of the anniversary chronicles its 40 years.
Collection de l’Art Brut remains the world reference for art brut and is among the top Swiss museums that attracts visitors from abroad. What we discover in Lausanne is art brut’s launching pad, the premises of something that has become so popular that it has been engulfed by the art market.
And this exhibition is where it all started.
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