Language without structure: the unconscious art of Jean Dubuffet, a great exhibition in Venice

Davide Landoni, ArtsLife, March 21, 2019

Jean Dubuffet and Venice is the exhibition that Palazzo Franchetti dedicates to the creator of Art Brut from 10 May to 20 October. Accompanied by the citation to two Venetian precedents of the artist, the exhibition tells the artistic evolution in three thematic sections.


«Attention kills what it touches. It is wrong to believe that by looking carefully at things you can get to know them better. Because the gaze spins, like the silkworm, and in an instant it wraps itself in an opaque cocoon that removes all sight. This is why painters who open their eyes wide in front of the model are unable to grasp any part of it»

Jean Dubuffet, Perceive

From these few lines we can understand how Jean Dubuffet can have nothing to do with a classic aesthetic. First of all, we deduce that according to the French artist, looking does not mean knowing. Repeated, careful observation, analyzing the parts and the complex is not effective, indeed it is even deleterious. Because as we observe them, the things of the world are covered with the patina of our subjectivity and become opaque, resistant and unchangeable at every new glance. Looking at the world we compromise its ability to reveal itself for what it is, the eye does not find knowledge but makes it flee.

A second consideration derives from this: art, as an investigator of truth, cannot then move, as it has always done, through the use of the eye. Dubuffet then prophesies an art as an elusive mechanism of the intellect, free from the control of reason and language, fleeing from culture and ideology. Art is an instinctual, free movement, it condenses into a gesture so spontaneous that it is mistaken for unconscious. How does an art develop with these premises?

Jean Debuffet, Site Inhabited by Objects
Jean Dubuffet, Site Inhabited by Objects
In a complex way, for an immediate result. Modalities and purposes that the Jean Dubuffet and Venice exhibition, at Palazzo Franchetti from 10 May to 20 October, tries to express, recovering the memory of two great Venetian exhibitions of the artist (Palazzo Grassi in 1964 and the French pavilion of the Biennale in 1984) updating its teaching in today's retrospective on the inventor of Art Brut.
The raw material and the gesture then the two main thematic lines that the curators Sophie Webel and Frédéric Jaeger plow through to define the exhibition, which culminates in Dubuffet's most colorful and brilliant period. Three great cycles for the three great creative phases of the artist: Célébration du sol collects the result of the annexation to the canvas of leaves, earth, minerals, of the protagonist entry of matter into the dynamics of art and artistic thought; L'Hourloupe is the section of the dense and crazy turning point that characterizes the most inspired moment of a Dubuffet in search of an alternative cognitive universe; after the chaos of the uncontrolled stroke, the artist's work unfolds in Mires, where paintings with vibrant colors and brushstrokes so fluid as to confuse the physical limits of the picture are exhibited.
Jean Debuffet, Affluence
Jean Dubuffet, Affluence

In constant reference to the exhibitions of which she is a daughter, Jean Dubuffet and Venice responds to the need to give body, further visual testimony to the ideas of Art Brut and its creator. If there really is an art freed from cultural conventions and debts, from history and conditioning, then Dubuffet's authentic instinct, even childish, is its main spokesperson.