l'Art Brut

In 1945, the French painter Jean Dubuffet coined the term Art Brut. His intention was to designate “the creative output of people who are self-taught and who work outside of any institutional framework, beyond all rules and artistic considerations”.  In 1971, Dubuffet donated his personal collection to the city of Lausanne, Switzerland. I’ve long wanted to visit the Collection de l’Art Brut, and this week, I finally made it. This collage by Aloïse is just one example of the exciting works I found there.

Imaginary worlds, beautifully curated

For the artists represented, artistic expression was often triggered by a painful life event, such as death, exile or war. For others, a vision or an auspicious occasion was the catalyst. Art Brut is the art of solitary people, people on the fringes of society, and in many cases, persons committed to psychiatric hospitals. To tour through the museum is to enter their imaginary worlds of fiction and fantasy. Sometimes, and perhaps not surprisingly, what we find there feels uncomfortably familiar.

l'Art Brut
Henry Darger (1892-1973) drew and wrote in solitude and secrecy for more than 60 years. This detail from an over-sized work on card stock portrays little girls fleeing an approaching storm. The complete title: “Storm brewing. This is not strawberry the little girl is carrying.”

Lucienne Peiry, the Collection’s Director of Research, has written that “Art Brut reactivates the primitive attributes of the creative act–magical, spiritual, and therapeutic”. I found many of the objects to be powerful connectors to what she calls the “disturbing strangeness” emanating from the primal creative drive. They take the viewer in close, for a look at what propels all artistic endeavor. These eccentric artworks are stimulating, intriguing, sometimes disturbing.

l'Art Brut
Carlo Zinelli (1916-1964) created 3,000 pieces over a 14-year period, such as this gouache on paper, based on his traumatic war experiences in the French mountain infantry.
l'Art Brut
Left: Giovanni Battista Podesta (1895-1976) produced brightly colored sculptures and reliefs denouncing capitalist values and disappearance of spiritual values.
Right: Beginning in 1970, Stanislaw Zagajewski created elaborate ceramic “altars” featuring heads with distorted features.
l'Art Brut
Left: Charles Steffen, was a prolific creator of autobiographical writing and drawings, in temporary exhibition at Collection l’Art Brut, 23 May-29 September 2013.
Right: Helga Goetze (1922-2008), subverted the traditional image of embroidery, creating 300 pieces denouncing the inhibitions and taboos of sexuality.

Elegant displays that delight & inform

The Collection de l’Art Brut has grown from 5,000 to more than 60,000 pieces since it was opened to the public in 1976. For more than thirty years, it was Dubuffet’s mission to widen the boundaries of art to include the works outside the confines of officialdom. The Collection’s subversive and inventive works, beautifully displayed in a manner that evokes the secrecy within which they were created, deliver on that promise.

If you go

In summer, the Collection de l’Art Brut is open seven days per week. The strikingly modern venue is set on three levels, in rooms that ramble from the ground floor to attic of the Château de Beaulieu. It is possible to tour the Collection in an hour or so, if you manage to limit label-reading to a few of the many individual sets of works on display.

A tiny, kitsch-free (no fridge magnets!), bookshop offers lovely posters, postcards and a number of excellent books exploring various forms of outsider art.

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