Jean Dubuffet’s Limitless Imagination Art

Jean Dubuffet, one of the most famous European artists of the postwar era, had an imagination that knew no bounds. In his rough-hewn paintings, drawings, and sculptures ranging from abstraction to childlike figuration, he envisioned altered states in which humanity existed in a form that he believed was closer to its origins. A ceaseless experimenter in the way of materials and forms, he advocated for self-taught or “outsider” practitioners in the field.

These days, Dubuffet may be best known for his large-scale sculptures, which resemble masses of white organic forms sharply outlined in black. He had intended to be among his monumental ones, but it was never fully realized in a large-scale format—until now. Starting on Pace Gallery will show a newly fabricated version of Le cirque in its New York gallery. “He both imagined that these things eventually would become physically real and acknowledged that that was never even required,” Oliver Shultz, Pace’s curatorial director, said of Le cirque and other small-scale models by Dubuffet. “In essence, they already exist at large scale in your mind, and that completely licenses the fabrication of them in reality. So, it’s also just exciting to be able to complete or play out this final stage in what Dubuffet imagined 50 years ago.”

On the occasion of a new fabrication of Le cirque, below is a look back at Dubuffet’s long and varied.

Dubuffet began as an artist in the middle of his life.
Born in Le Havre, France, Dubuffet did not dedicate himself to his art practice until age 41, having been dismissed from the French corps and subsequently working as a wine merchant. he did a stint at the Julian in Paris, studying painting, but it was not until that the artist had his first solo exhibition at the Galerie René Drouin in Paris, and he got his first solo show in New York at the Pierre Matisse Gallery three years later. According to a  obituary for the artist, Dubuffet’s solo debut in Paris “caused an uproar of a kind that was to become ever more familiar over the next few years.”

The artist coins the term “art brut”—and rocks the Paris art scene.
The artist maintained relationships with French writers like André Breton, Georges Limbour, and Jean Paulhan, and he became a pioneer of “art brut,” or “raw art,” a term that he coined to denote works that drew on the aesthetic of works by prisoners, children, and people with mental illness. For Dubuffet, these works existed in opposition to high modernism, which prized itself on rigid notions of artistic genius. (More recently, scholars have criticized Dubuffet’s intentions, alleging that he aimed to demean or essentialize works by non-Western and disabled artists.) Works from the so-called “art brut” movement forewent artistic trends and conventions in favor of idiosyncratic figures and forms that, according to Dubuffet, could reveal details about the makeup of an individual’s subconscious. “I have a great interest in madness, and I am convinced art has much to do with madness,” Dubuffet said of his creative. A collector of pieces by self-taught artists, Dubuffet outlined the virtues of Art Brut in a manifesto for a exhibition of such works at Galerie René Drouin in Paris.