“Jean Dubuffet: Anticultural Positions” on display at 18 East 79th Street, is a show devoted to the early work of the French artist who coined the term “art brut,” is the sort of in-depth, big-ticket exhibition that only a few galleries can pull off, and even fewer are inclined to mount.
A French painter born in Le Havre in 1901, Jean Dubuffet had a successful career in the wine business until 1942, when he devoted himself solely to art. He was 45 when he had his first solo exhibition in Paris.
During the 1940's and 1950's, Dubuffet advocated an anti-cultural position, a nihilistic spirit in the context of war-ravaged Europe. In 1947, he arranged an exhibition of objects produced by children, the mentally ill, and psychotics, for which he coined the term art brut. Children's drawings, graffiti on slum walls, and the art of the insane share an intuitive spirit, relying on the inner world of the creative mind while rejecting the more traditional purposes for making art. Emulating these 'outsider' works, Dubuffet made the assemblages of the 1950's from glue, plaster, putty and asphalt embedded in gravel and broken bottles. The surfaces were scribbled on and scratched to give the impression of graffiti-like walls.
In the 1960's, Dubuffet produced a series of paintings that resemble jigsaw puzzles in which tiny figures are enclosed in spaces, and large painted polyester resin sculptures. All of his work stands aesthetically somewhere between the beautiful and the awkward, the sophisticated and the mundane, and the sane and the insane, but it all displays intense vitality and humor.