New York

Jean Dubuffet

Pace Gallery

It has been forgotten that Jean Dubuffet and Bernard Buffet rose to celebrity at the same moment owing largely, I imagine, to a commonly shared calligraphic excess which, at the end of the Second World War, was experienced as an anxiety manifestation in the face of the horror just ended and the uncertainty about to begin. Twenty years and more have passed since then and in that time Bernard Buffet has rightly been discredited for the merely stylish illustrator he is. Dubuffet, on the other hand, for reasons connected with his seemingly fetishistic extractions from insane art, Art Brut, and other so-called primitive productions, has been able to disguise his work from the blemishes of mannerist-expressionist commentary. But to stave off is hardly to create afresh and I now suspect that the charges laid to the work of his earlier associates (which also included Franz Grüber) may at last be attributed to Dubuffet himself.

Apart from the commendable aleatory implications of the Texturologies and the Beards, and the surrealistically oriented clunker figures, Dubuffet has contributed little to the viable syntax of contemporary art. Instead he has perfected a mechanical and perfunctory set of obsessive mannerisms and routine pattern arrangements which have grown all the more atavistic since the emergence of l’Hourloupe. To my way of seeing, all these jigsaw subdivisions, linear ratiocinations, automatic profiles and doodly surface intrigues descend from standard Synthetic Cubist idiom. Perhaps in Dubuffet’s hands they are spared invisibility because of an occasionally striking transmutant piece of household furniture—cups, glasses, chairs, figures—but ultimately they are in little league with Picasso’s prescient Verre d’Absinthe of 1914, even though their agitated contours may fool the viewer in to imagining that he is dealing with something unfamiliar and fresh.

The unique cast polyesters and the playing card studies of the Banque and Algébre de l’Hourloupe—notwithstanding the taste expended in their display and on other contingent bibliographic felicities (poster, catalogs, etc.)—are remorselessly ordinary. Nor can the intriguing technique of the sculptures save them, although innovative procedures are most often called upon to perform such surgical miracles in the later work of possibly faltering modern masters. Dubuffet, I am told, first carves his pieces in a styrofoam-like substance on which he also inscribes meandering l’Hourloupe-Tarot travesties in red and blue. A mold is then made around the piece which destroys the original and which, at the same time, bleeds the linear inscriptions onto the inner wall of the mold. A polyester resin positive is then cast and it in turn picks up the anthropomorphic rebuses. This cast is touched up coloristically by Dubuffet although the adverb is false. Dubuffet has utterly no sense of color. He might have as easily drawn his lines in violet and yellow. The point is touched on to indicate that what little qualities these pictures may have, they are there by virtue of quirky Parkirisonian contours and erratic shapes.

Robert Pincus-Witten