First published: Spring 2021

"We will probably never know anything about the author (or authors) of ‘Barbus Müller'." This peremptory statement by Michel Thévoz in his book L’Art Brut, in 1975, has always intrigued me. For Thévoz, the anonymity of the maker of these sculptures went hand in hand with an attitude that he considered characteristic of certain art brut creators, namely a hypothetical denial of their signature and of the personalisation of their works.

 


Untitled, c. 1920, granite, 10.5 x 15.5 x 5.5 in. / 26.5 x 39 x 14 cm,
The Museum of Everything

What was grouped together under the name of art brut was thus often presented as orphaned, without roots, a cultural fireball – or rather, an anti-cultural fireball – created by those who would have knowingly fled the lights of stardom. Thévoz, the first curator of the Collection de l'Art Brut in Lausanne, categorised the Barbus figures as “anti-art” – a label that their creator probably never even considered.

 


Barbus Müller figures from the collection at the Barbier-Mueller Museum,
© photo Luis Lourenço and Barbier-Mueller Museum

This label was more the notion of the inventor of the concept of art brut himself, namely Jean Dubuffet. Dubuffet acquired some lava sculptures when he first began collecting art brut. And it was he who gave them the nickname "Barbus Müller" in 1945–46 because the sculptures – which he had seen at various dealers and collectors – sometimes had beards, and because the collector who possessed the greatest number of them was called Joseph Müller.

 

This is an article extract; read the full article in Raw Vision #107.

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