First published: Winter 2017
What year did you first arrive at Halle Saint Pierre? Originally it was a museum of naive art, what was it like when you first arrived?
Before I arrived in 1994, it was a museum that housed two separate entities: a naive art collection and a children's museum. The museum for children had exhausted its dynamics and was no longer a forerunner, and the collection of naive art was very poor, far behind the Charlotte Zander Collection in Germany or the Museum Anatole Jakovsky in Nice.
Martine Lusardy at Halle Saint Pierre, May 2017
How did you change Halle Saint Pierre from a naive art museum to a centre for art brut?
It was necessary to give a real cultural project to Halle Saint Pierre, which was missing from the beginning. The first exhibition, “Art Brut & Cie: The Hidden face of Contemporary Art”, was the founding stone of this project. It defined its main lines and its spirit. This one-year exhibition brought, for the first time, six museums together in one: five major collections of the second generation of art brut around Lausanne’s mother collection. In other words, the exhibition was of such great significance in France, where mainstream events dedicated to art brut were so rare, that it had a huge impact. Over that year, Halle Saint Pierre became the go-to place for outsider art, with conferences, film festivals, meetings, exhibitions and, above all, its bookshop: a very lively place where people met, exchanged, spoke, and expressed their agreement – or disagreement.
I could easily draw a conclusion as to the future of Halle Saint Pierre. I had my cultural project: art brut and outsider art. I had the spirit: to make the place alive.
What influence did Laurent Danchin have on the curation of art brut and outsider art exhibitions?
Laurent used to visit Halle Saint Pierre from the beginning, as he was interested in some of our exhibitions such as “Fantastic Architectures”, or “From Rousseau to Demonchy”, co-curated by Roger Cardinal, which presented the best naive art from international collections. He forged strong links with Laurence Maidenbaum and Pascal Hecker, who were in charge of the bookshop. They introduced me to Laurent with the idea that he could be a good advisor. He became the main curator of “Art Brut & Cie”. Laurent not only knew the history of art brut, from its prehistory to its current developments, he also made outsider art his spiritual family and built very personal and human ties with every person who shared his passion. His thoughts and his passion were always in motion. The Halle Saint Pierre became his favourite place to share his knowledge and discoveries. He co-curated nearly ten exhibitions, including the one dedicated to his friend Chomo. Art brut, almost without exception, is an art whose authors relate not to high culture but to popular culture. However, the discoverers and mediators are always people belonging to the other, “high” culture: artists, writers, journalists, psychiatrists (Prinzhorn, Klee, Breton, Dubuffet or Malraux in the past century). Art brut and outsider art are therefore essentially the notions of scholars, and without the active and militant recognition of a very sophisticated and intellectual painter like Jean Dubuffet, the type of creations they represent would never have gone beyond, at best, a purely local outreach.
We shared Laurent’s determination to uphold this reality without concern for intellectual hierarchy, in order to prevent a caste of specialists from taking ownership of art brut to make it a dehumanised scientific subject.