The Virtues Of Unlearning: Jean Dubuffet Exhibit at Opera Gallery Runs Until January 3, 2022.

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Forbes MC Staff   Forbes Monaco

The Virtues Of Unlearning: Jean Dubuffet Exhibit at Opera Gallery Runs Until January 3, 2022.

A major and unclassifiable figure in art history of the second half of the 20th century, Jean Dubuffet (1901-1985) is the author of a subversive œuvre that questions the cultural clichés of his time and the history of art in general. This path led him to develop the Art Brut Collection, and a new visual language. Seeking a form of creation that was an abrupt and immediate reflection of life, the artist laid claim to an art form that would not seem to be one. “At every moment of his œuvre, Dubuffet fought the foundations of our culture, in a permanent and fragmented revolution”, wrote Gilbert Lascault, philosopher and art critic.

Indeed, Dubuffet’s protean œuvre can be broken down into chronological cycles like a series of formal changes, a continual exploration of matter and a constant renewal of his means of expression. He invites us to look differently at the world around us. He deconstructs the real to reveal a different reality, one that originates from what he calls his “mental universe.” In this sense, Dubuffet belongs to the 20th-century community of artists who, since the Dadaist movement, have been working to undo the achievements of the past, while radically redefining the creative process.

For the first time, Opera Gallery has organized a solo exhibition by the artist, titled Jean Dubuffet, Bal des figures. It follows on from a dialogue that began in their Geneva gallery, with Alexander Calder in 2015 and Pierre Soulages in 2020. To celebrate the 120th anniversary of this exceptional artist’s birth, Opera Gallery Paris displays thirty works (paper, paintings and sculptures) especially gathered for the occasion. It seemed evident that Opera Gallery should create a scenography in their space, to pay tribute to this unique and contrasting work, to create a dialogue between his work.

Bal des figures covers 40 years of Jean Dubuffet’s creation. In the 1940s, he looked at subjects taken from daily life and his experience in the Sahara, before spending the next decade focusing on his research related to the properties of matter and themes related to soil. Then came L’Hourloupe cycle (1962-1974), a true philosophical dance, which is particularly well highlighted in a series of paintings and sculptures with their undulating forms and characteristic colors. Finally, numerous colored “sites,” inhabited by characters dating from 1975 to 1982 are also on display.

Jean Dubuffet was born in Le Havre in 1901, in a prosperous family of wine merchants. His artistic vocation came to the forefront immediately after the First World War. Upon his arrival in Paris in 1918, he rapidly turned away from the teachings of the Academie Julian in the midst of the Dada movement. He followed Montmartre’s literary and artistic bohemia (Suzanne Valadon, Max Jacob, etc.) and in 1922 associated himself with André Masson’s studio, where he rubbed shoulders with the likes of Michel Leiris and Antonin Artaud. His first paintings attest to the influence of André Masson, and at the same time show that he adhered to Fernand Léger, who transformed daily life into compelling abstract compositions.

Upon his return to Le Havre in 1925, he abandoned his artistic work and embraced a career as a wine merchant, which he veered away from eight years later to dedicate his time, in 1936—once again in Paris—to the making of puppets and masks. His life oscillated between art and trade and it was in 1942, under German Occupation, that Dubuffet eventually committed to devoting himself to artistic creation.

His Petit bouquet de fleurs (1943), presented as part of this exhibition, shows an inspiration drawn from daily life scenes. The frontal presence, the straight lines (except for the four flowers whose orange hearts bear thick crosses) and the color range of the bouquet are quite striking in this unusual still life, as is the manner in which the shapes overlap—an aspect which would soon become one of Dubuffet’s distinctive art.

Dubuffet’s polymorphic work covers six decades of the 20th century. The exhibition revolves around selected key moments underlined by an alternance between works on paper (drawings and gouaches), painted masterpieces and sculptures. One of the strong themes is his encounter with the Sahara’s immensity. Driven by a keen passion for landscapes and open space, either real or imaginary, Dubuffet was always fascinated by the notion of travel. Between 1947 and 1949, he visited the Sahara desert three times. Drawn in the solitude afforded by the sandy immensity, Arabe en prière (1948), Touareg (1948), Cinq palmiers (1948), and the gouache on paper Arabe, gazelle et trois palmiers (1948) illustrate this period. Accompanied by his wife Émilie Carlu, he went to Algiers where he lingered a few days before joining a small group of tourists on a journey to discover oasis.

Devoid of colonial bias, Dubuffet was fascinated with the inhabitants who populated this oasis at the gates of the immense desert. The mineral nature of the landscape echoed his attraction for natural, rough materials: “There is no better companion than sand.

One never tires of plunging one’s hands in it, kneading it, tracing lines and making prints in it. Footprints are beautiful when moulded in sand that is as fine as plaster.”

Back in Paris, Dubuffet used his notes and sketches to paint several oils on canvas which Galerie Drouin gathered as part of the 1947 portrait exhibition called L’Arbi.

Dubuffet plays with the grotesque and hints at the presence of the soul through two tiny, close-set eyes carved in the material in the upper half of the bodiless head standing on a scrawny neck. A small nose, a mouth and a chin appear on the right side of the face’s outline. Beyond figurative representation, the artist stages the conflict between shapeliness and shapelessness, between order and accident.

While the human figure is in fact ubiquitous in Dubuffet’s entire body of work, he was keen on creating an art that is accessible to everyone and entirely demystified, the artist did not strive for resemblance but rather for the very essence of the subject being depicted..

Other periods of influence in the exhibition include Paysage au chien bleu, which highlight his technical and tectonic exploration, kneading and shaping materials, working on his “texturologies” through splattering, scrapping or inclusions. Additionally, there are eleven works from L’Hourloupe period that began with modest ballpoint pen drawings, which transformed into gouaches, then paintings, polystyrene sculptures and in the end full-fledged architectural structures in particular. Featured in the gallery are Pendule IV (Flamboiement de l’heure) (1966), Tasse de thé I (1966- 67), Paysage logologique (1968), Le Conjectural (1972), Clochepoche (1973-1988), Le Maître d’hôtel (1974) and Promenade agreste (1974).

This superb exhibition attests to Opera Gallery’s commitment to highlighting the work of Jean Dubuffet, an artist who ruffled and upturned artistic conventions and pictorial genres while also shaking up entire value systems. With the support of the Fondation Dubuffet, this exhibition is the opportunity to discover, or rediscover, the remarkable work of the founder of Art Brut, a celebration of truth and life by an artist who wanted his work to be for the “common man,” or the widest audience possible.

Opera Gallery Paris, 62 rue du faubourg Saint Honoré, 75008. Open Monday through Saturday 10am to 7pm.



Article firts published in Forbes Monaco December 2021/ January 2022.

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Forbes MC Staff   Forbes Monaco