Apartment Houses, Paris, 1946 Oil with sand and charcoal on canvas 44 7/8 x 57 3/8 in. (114 x 145.7 cm)
In 1923, after reading Hans Prinzhorn’s Bildnerei der Geisteskranken (1922), in which the art of the mentally ill was first considered to have aesthetic value, Dubuffet became interested in pictures made by those without formal training—the uninitiated, the alienated, and especially the insane. Many years later, in 1945, he started a collection of these pictures, which he called “Art Brut” (“Raw Art”), that eventually comprised 5,000 items. Not only did he regard Art Brut as a more authentic, genuine, imaginative, and spontaneous form of artistic expression, but he also came to reject the methods and values of traditional art. “Beautiful” and “ugly” had no meaning for him, and he tirelessly defended his “anti-art” and “anti-culture” theories in lectures and in two volumes of essays (1967). He wanted his subject matter to be accessible to simple people and to relate to their daily lives, and thus his first paintings were of Parisians riding the crowded metro.
This painting, part of yet another series of some fourteen oils and gouaches, focuses on pedestrians in various back alleys of Paris. Emulating the features of Art Brut, Dubuffet intentionally adopted a crude style. The street, sidewalks, and houses are stacked in rows, one above the other, without perspective, depth, or modeling. Windows and shop signs are stuck at random onto facades. The overall effect evokes the backdrop of a puppet theater, such as Dubuffet himself had built and decorated during his previous interlude as a painter (1934–37), when he also carved and painted marionettes.
We’re busy preparing to open Fresh Meat / Young Blood, a showcase of New Jersey’s new Master of Fine Arts graduates. This year we’ll be exhibiting work from Mason Gross School of the Arts, Montclair State University, New Jersey City University and William Patterson University, with the reception being held this Saturday, June 2nd, from 6 - 9 PM.
For Memorial Day, we look at Maya Lin’s plan for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC. Lin submitted her entry into a blind contest while she was still a 21-year-old architecture student. Upon selection, she faced intense opposition, especially from veterans, and had to defend her design in front of Congress (a compromise was eventually reached, which placed an American flag and a heroic bronze trio of American soldiers a short distance from the wall). However, once the wall was finally completed, many came to appreciate the power and austere, haunting beauty that embodied Lin’s design.
Ai Weiwei is China’s most famous international artist, and its most outspoken domestic critic. Against a backdrop of strict censorship and an unresponsive legal system, Ai expresses himself and organizes people through art and social media. In response, Chinese authorities have shut down his blog, beat him up, bulldozed his newly built studio, and held him in secret detention.
AI WEIWEI: NEVER SORRY is the inside story of a dissident for the digital age who inspires global audiences and blurs the boundaries of art and politics. First-time director Alison Klayman gained unprecedented access to Ai while working as a journalist in China. Her detailed portrait provides a nuanced exploration of contemporary China and one of its most compelling public figures.
Joseph Beuys, The End of the Twentieth Century, 1983-85
From the Tate Collection:
A major theme in Beuys’s work was renewal. This sculpture developed out of his environmental concerns, particularly a plan to plant 7,000 oaks in the city of Kassel, Germany. Next to each newly planted tree would be placed blocks of basalt rock. Here, the basalt itself becomes a symbol of potential growth. A cone has been cut out of each rock, allowing the cavity to be lined with clay and felt. Embedded in dead matter, these materials suggest the possibility of new life emerging at the end of a dark century.
Things we love: hares, Tartars, sleds, felt, animal fat and Joseph Beuys. Happy 91st birthday to the artist, teacher, philosopher and shaman.