First published: Spring 2016
JM: I’d like to ask you about the Collection itself. Dubuffet didn’t like to think of it as a museum, more as a sort of anti-museum – is it even possible to have such a concept?
SL: I would say that first, Dubuffet was a very paradoxical figure. He was opposed to academic culture, and he went to find, through art brut, an “anti” way of creating culture and art outside the system. He really believed in these creators and their productions and he put them in the rank of “art”. But through art brut he also wanted to shake the official system of art, and to question it completely and question the notion of art itself. What is a piece of art? Do you need to be trained to be an artist? Does it need to come from schools? Does the work have to be shown in museums and galleries to be considered as art, or not? These creators were all self-taught artists and what they do is art.
JM: I don’t think nowadays we realise how aggressive Dubuffet was towards established culture. And he needed to be, because the art he was showing was often attacked, denigrated, and that situation continued for many years.
SL: That’s why he was so radical about art, about art brut, about the academic system of art... and that’s why also he was very radical in his speeches. When he wrote the text L’Art Brut Perefere Aux Art Culturels, he was moving the cursor very, very far. He had to. He had to say, “This is not art; this is art.” Official culture is not art. All the artists are intellectuals.
JM: He had to be more extreme than necessary, to push the point through.
SL: Yes, and to make this field recognised as real art. At the beginning, the collection that he was building was still in the shadows, little known, in a kind of clandestinity ... but to show the paradoxes, in 1949 he made the first exhibition outside the Foyer de l’Art Brut, which was his storage space, at the Galerie René Drouin a gallery in the core of bourgeois Paris. Originally he said that he had no wish to make a museum, but the works had to be seen by as many people as possible. But finally he decided to donate his collection because he wanted it to be in a public museum, and now we function as a normal museum of course but then you know he just wanted to have the name of the museum as Collection de l’Art Brut and not Museum d’Art Brut. It’s again a kind of paradox.
JM: When it first opened, I think Michel Thévoz didn’t want titles or explanations by the works.
SL: We have a biographic panel for each artist so you can read about their life, and also about the work itself – how it was made, the techniques. So we give some information but we don’t have captions. And I would say that what is also interesting with all artworks is the first encounter. What happens when you look at a work. In the case of art brut, we see a real dialogue between the works and the visitors, from children to specialists. And the fact that there are no captions is not a problem at all. I mean, you can understand the works and something happens.
This is an article extract; read the full article in Raw Vision #89