The interwar period nurtured numerous artists who played an important role in the development of modern art, but only a handful of them decided to commit themselves fully to art during World War II. Although interested in different disciplines, the notable French artist Jean Dubuffet (1901–1985) started practicing art at the age of 41 amid the German Occupation of Paris.
In the post-war period, he became an internationally recognized figure whose experimental approach to art-making culminated with the birth of the Art Brut concept. The dissemination of Dubuffet’s groundbreaking ideas was a result of his articulation of the WW II atrocities and the new world that stood before his eyes colored by the poverty, but also an incredible burst of creativity expressed by amateur artists, tattooists, criminals, and outcasts in general.
To revisit the domains of the Art Brut aesthetic and underline the major role of Jean Dubuffet in disrupting the inherited canons, The Barbican decided to organize the artist’s first major UK survey titled Brutal Beauty to open in February this year.
The survey, curated by Eleanor Nairne, will cover four decades of Jean Dubuffet’s nonstop experimentation in both formal and conceptual terms, as well as his devotion to the movement mirrored in the collection of Art Brut the artist has acquired throughout his life.
Barbican’s Head of Visual Arts, Jane Alison, expressed her excitement in a brief statement:
I could not be more thrilled that we’re staging Jean Dubuffet: Brutal Beauty at the Barbican where his sculpture, painting, collage, and the drawing will feel perfectly at home. Dubuffet marveled at the fabric of everyday life - an alchemist experimenting with dust and dirt, conjuring visual gold. So many artists, from David Hockney to Eva Hesse, Robert Smithson, and Jean-Michel Basquiat have been influenced by his playful spirit and experimental drive. I have no doubt that this exhibition, the first show of his work in the UK for over 50 years, will be an utter joy and a revelation.
With more than 150 works (early portraits, lithographs, fantastical statues, enamel paintings, butterfly assemblages, and giant canvases), the upcoming exhibition will accentuate the boldness of Dubuffet’s trajectory that was developed in sync with the absurdity of everyday life.
Alongside the artist’s most intriguing assemblages such as the Little Statues of Precarious Life (1954– 59) or Texturologies from the late 1950s; L’Hourloupe living painting series created throughout the 1960s, and later large scale works such as Theatres of Memory, this exhibition will feature rarely seen works by 18 artists from Dubuffet’s collection (such as Fleury-Joseph Crépin (1875 – 1948), Maurice Baskine (1901 – 1968), Gaston Dufour, known as Gaston Duf (1920 – 1966), Joaquim Vicens Gironella (1911 – 1997), Sylvain Lecocq (1900 – 1950), and Augustin Lesage (1876 – 1954), to name a few).
I seems that this survey tends to relight the practice of one of the greatest and definitely most influential artists of the early post-war period whose legacy still inspires numerous creative souls on the margins of the art system.
Jean Dubuffet: Brutal Beauty will be on display at The Barbican in London from 11 February until 23 May 2021.
Featured image: Jean Dubuffet - Skedaddle (L’Escampette), 31 October 1964. Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam. © ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London. All images courtesy The Barbican.