Jean Dubuffet

Au pas de cours

19 June – 13 September 2009

From June 19 through September 13, 2009, the Kunsthalle der Hypo-Kulturstiftung in Munich showed an extensive retrospective of the work by Jean Dubuffet (1901-1985), consisting of more than 150 paintings, works on paper and sculptures. Apart from two presentations in Munich’s State Print Collection (in 1966 and 1983), the artist was never the subject of an exhibition in southern Germany, and it was therefore long overdue to finally honour him here with a major survey. Presenting his work “at a glance” (in reference to the title of his autobiography “au pas de course”) was an attempt to provide an impression of the artist’s state of mind, as he was far more than just a painter and sculptor, but equally a writer, poet and philosopher.

high and low culture 

Jean Dubuffet is one of the main instigators in 20th-century art. His intermediate position between the poetry of artists like Paul Klee or Max Ernst and the sensitive surface treatments of informal painting from the 1950s has always been recognized and lauded by his colleagues. His interest in the eccentric, such as his fascination for outsider art or his recognition of the creative potential of street art, has changed our perception. He valued and collected such works, and coined the term “Art Brut” for these prime forms of expression. Yet, apart from its revolutionary potential, this had little to do with his personal, more intellectual approach to art. The once shocking imagery of graffiti on walls and urinals finds a new aesthetic within his work. And the now ever so popular interconnecting of high and low culture can also be traced back to Dubuffet.

Diversity of selected materials

After several attempts, Dubuffet finally committed himself entirely to his art during the mid 1940s. The show opened with works from this period, and then followed his entire career with representative examples. The figurative beginnings of his “Marionettes de la ville et de la campagne” are soon to be joined by material paintings that are composed, kneaded, primed, if not to say, “cooked” with sand, plaster and tar. They depict Parisians, and after his journey to the Sahara, inhabitants of the desert as well. The sensitive surface structures of the rather violently agitated bodies of his “Corps de dames” form a bridge to his entirely non-representational, yet concrete “texturologies” and “matériologies”. After the artist’s return to Paris from the Côte d’Azur in the 1960s, these cell-like, at times microscopic “Célébrations du sol”, are transformed into the vibrantly luminous pictures of the “Paris Circus”. It is only now that he deems his works to be abstract: after his earlier material-based works, Dubuffet invents a spiritual world that only exists of the colours red and blue, and the non-colours black and white. This virtual world of the “Hourloupe” gradually turns three-dimensional, can be entered, and is finally even enlivened with actors in “Coucou Bazar”. In the 1970s, the artist “collages” or assembles a survey of his previous work in the “Théâtres de mémoire”, before his world finally dissolves in “Sites” (areas), “Mires” (points of view) and finally “Non-lieux” (non-places) during the last years of his life.

art should jostle the mind in order to put it in motion

The exhibition featureed key works from all these phases, demonstrating the organic development of Dubuffet’s oeuvre, ranging from figuration to abstraction and back to figuration. Dubuffet always demanded, “art should jostle the mind in order to put it in motion”. He complied with this challenge by using uncommon media and unusual forms within his creative process, his main goal being to realise something different and new.

Departing from the rarely shown group of works in the collection of Viktor and Marianne Langen, the largest Dubuffet collection in Germany, the Kunsthalle der Hypo-Kulturstiftung succeeded with the help of the Fondation Dubuffet in Paris, to select a highly representative group of works spanning the entire career. Important loans from museums like the Centre Pompidou and the Musée des Arts décoratifs in Paris, the Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin and many other museums, galleries and private collections throughout Europe could be secured.

The Munich exhibition was preceded by a smaller presentation in the Langen Foundation in Neuss, Germany. There, some 50 works formed a first retrospective and focused on the Dubuffets in the collection of Viktor and Marianne Langen.

After the extensive Munich presentation, yet another, smaller selection of some 30 works traveled on to the Museum Lothar Fischer in Neumarkt, Bavaria, from September 29, 2009 through January 10, 2010. There they formed a dialogue with the works of Lothar Fischer, the Munich SPUR-artist, who knew Dubuffet and greatly admired him.

Parallel to the presentation in the Kunsthalle, the Munich Literaturhaus presented the exhibition “Jean Dubuffet – Life and Books”, focusing on the artist’s books that are testimony to his activities as poet, draughtsman and author.

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