Magazine article Artforum International

Brut Force

Magazine article Artforum International

Brut Force

Article excerpt

This spring brought with it the rare opportunity to view, in its entirety, the donation Jean Dubuffet made to the Musee des Arts Decoratifs in 1967. Presented under the title "Les Dubuffet de Jean Dubuffet" (Jean Dubuffet's Dubuffets), this exhibition comprised 21 paintings, 135 gouaches and drawings, as well as six sculptures, all produced between 1942 and 1966. It was unquestionably the best introduction to the work of an artist who, since his death in 1985, has yet to be accorded a full retrospective. Most striking was the wealth of invention, the supreme indifference to hierarchies and genres - qualities evident from the very first works. through the stunning "Assemblages d'empreintes" (Imprint assemblages, 1955), which at times look very "photographic," to the Materiologies (Materiologies, 1959-60), or the urban images of Paris-Circus, 1961-62, and culminating in the famous series "L 'hourloupe," 1962-74. In a film about the artist produced by French television in 1961, screened at the entrance to the exhibition, Dubuffet declares: "If I made use of the absurd and the trivial, it was neither to celebrate nor to mock them, it was to negate them." This power of negation goes hand in hand with a rather uncommon, and certainly irresistible gaiety, a witty eloquence manifested even in the inscriptions on the surfaces of certain works, or in titles such as "Ostracisme rend la monnaie" (Ostracism gives back change).

This master negator got along fairly well with words, as one may see for oneself thanks to Gallimard's publication, several months before this exhibition, of the last two volumes of Dubuffet's writings. Prospectus et tous ecrits suivants, volumes 3 and 4 (Prospectus and subsequent writings), edited by Hubert Damisch. We know that Dubuffet regularly championed art - that is, the individual and his subversive capacities - as opposed to culture, which he viewed as an extension of the State, and in the fourth volume we find a brief text he wrote to commemorate the donation of his work to the aforementioned museum, a text that reveals both the vigor of his convictions and the scarcely tenable position in which they placed him:

True art exists only where the word art is not uttered, not yet uttered. Especially not with those connotations of praiseworthiness, stuffiness, and venerability that we insist on attaching to it, and which are so contrary to the spirit of licentious, if not criminal, play from which art is inseparable. . . . Thus, I wouldn't go and hang my canvases in a museum if things were going the way I wish they were (in which case there would be no museums at all). But given the current state of things, and regardless of what I want, there is no place in a living city for artworks, and people are so completely indoctrinated that artworks presented anywhere other than in a museum have no chance of being used by the public, or even of being looked at.(1)

If one still hopes to give some credence to such declarations, perhaps Dubuffet's donation must be viewed in an ethnological light: in terms of the gift and the countergift. Or, more specifically, according to the logic of potlatch, with its connotations of challenge and rivalry, since potlatch always assumes the eventual ruin of the one receiving the offerings. Indeed, potlatch may well be a favored tool of cultural subversion: the word served as a title for the "Bulletin d'information du groupe francais de l'Internationale lettriste" (The news bulletin of the French lettrist international) which a small group of Parisian agitators (including Guy-Ernest Debord) distributed from June 1954 until November 1957. The complete collection of these writings has just been republished by Editions Allia. Offering disorienting yet indispensable reading, this mimeographed newsletter (which ranged between one, two, and four pages, depending on the issue) was sent free of charge "to certain addresses given to the editorial offices," as was noted in issues from time to time. …

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