First published: Spring 2016
This year, the Collection de l’Art Brut, the world’s first and most important museum devoted to the examination and presentation of the kind of unique, unusual artistic creations that are recognised by its name, marks the fortieth anniversary of its opening to the public at the Château de Beaulieu, in Lausanne, Switzerland. This milestone comes at a time when interest in the most original self-taught works appears to be greater than ever. At the same time, gaining a clear understanding of just what “art brut” signifies – as a particular slice of art history, a way of evaluating and classifying artworks, and an aesthetic sensibility that has become associated with them – has never seemed more urgent.
As the keepers of the vision of its founder, the French modern artist Jean Dubuffet (1901–1985), who invented the term “art brut” and articulated the critical–aesthetic concerns that identify the works to which it refers, the Collection de l’Art Brut acknowledges the challenges it is facing at a time when artcategory labels appear to be more fluid than ever. Its plans for this year’s fortieth-anniversary commemoration and for the museum’s future programming reflect a commitment to honouring its history while moving forward as a cultural– educational institution with a distinctive mission.
Throughout 2016, the Collection, which now holds more than 60,000 works, will present special events to celebrate its big birthday. The centrepiece of this programming is its newest exhibition, “Jean Dubuffet’s Art Brut, from the Collection’s Origins”, which offers a vivid recreation of the one Dubuffet mounted in 1949 at the René Drouin Gallery in Paris. Leading up to that historic presentation, in 1945 Dubuffet had made an exploratory trip to Switzerland with his friend, the French literary critic and writer Jean Paulhan. Dubuffet and Paulhan went prospecting for works that had been produced by art-makers outside the mainstream of academically trained, “professional” artists.
Sarah Lombardi, the museum's director, writes in the current exhibition's catalogue that during their trip they sought “works on the margins of elite and official culture.”Already in 1942, Dubuffet had expressed his intention, as he recalled in an interview many years later, “to call into question the rites of culture and to seek out an art less constrained by pre-established norms.” Dubuffet gave the French name “art brut” (literally, “raw art”) to the remarkable creations he encountered and gathered up; they had been made by people living and working on what he viewed as the margins of mainstream culture and society. Among them: psychiatric-hospital patients, prisoners and other individuals who produced objects of aesthetic merit primarily for themselves and who felt driven to do so. Dubuffet regarded their works as unique and unclassifiable according to conventional art-historical criteria or art-category labels.
This is an article extract; read the full article in Raw Vision #89