Jean Dubuffet at the Barbican
The first major exhibition of works by French artist Jean Dubuffet in over 50 years has opened at the Barbican.
As an artist he is somewhat difficult to describe as he has produced such a variety of works over the course of his life that an exhibition of his work can almost resemble a gallery of a dozen different artists. Whether he’s had to experiment or is bored a lot, that’s something I leave for other people to discuss.
He has often been described as an anti-art artist.
The Barbican’s exhibition ranges from his early works, mostly portraits and drawings, but often deliberately and provocatively ugly portraits. He argued that much of his work was not an attack on the person sitting for him, but Western ideals of beauty.
The exhibition goes through a time when he was more a collector than a creator, the period of Art Brut, which today is more often called Outsider Art, even if it is derogatory, as if being an artist was something that could not be done only by people who passed an exam. The period that seems most conventional and accessible to modern art is probably the later period when he worked on much larger canvases and larger blocks of color.
Some of the most interesting, both conceptually and aesthetically, are the large textural works where he experimented with collages of materials or painted on sheets of stone. However, the use of butterfly wings, may be accepted then, rightly would be less so today.
The largest exhibit was dedicated to something that is not static art, but a period where he staged what can best be described as a stage performance, with people in costume among the animatronics. While too fragile to be mobile now, the Barbican has recreated a static scene from the series.
The room is visually impactful.
As an exhibition, it’s hard to quantify, sometimes appealing, and then you move on to another display and you can be repelled by what he’s created. As the artist said: “Art should always make you laugh a little and scare you a little. Anything but boring.
This doesn’t get bored, as it sometimes feels like Dubuffet can almost be seen as a one-man collective, and the Barbican has managed to give a rare chance to see the astonishing variety of his work.
The Jean Dubuffet Brutal Beauty exhibition is at the Barbican until August 22.