Jean Dubuffet: Inside Outsider Art

THE DAILY PIC: An artist merges found objects and art by the insane and young.


With all the talk today of outsider art, it’s worth revisiting the work of Jean Dubuffet, a bunch of whose pictures are now on view at Acquavella, a posh gallery on New York’s Upper East Side. This is his Head Taken over by Fluids, from 1951. Dubuffet was a pioneering fan of art by kids and the mentally ill, or by anyone whose creations seemed to happen for reasons beyond the art world. He was also a fan of old iron slag and every kind of mess and stain that he could recycle into art. Head Taken over by Fluids seems almost a cross between his two tendencies: He’s used mess to make a picture that looks insane. I’d say that whenever today’s art world looks to outsiderism, we’re acting like Dubuffet but barely admitting it—or ever admitting that he got there first. We like messy art, and don’t much mind where it comes from, or the real reasons that an outsider might have for making it. In the end, we act as though outsider art has been made to serve insider ends. Whereas Dubuffet, I think, was trying to stay inside by climbing out. (Courtesy Acquavella Galleries, © 2014 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris; photo by Kent Pell)

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