Écrits d’Art Brut – Wild Expression & Thought 20 October 2021 – 23 January 2022
This major group exhibition brings together the myriad writings of thirteen international Art Brut authors. These writers, most of whom lived or live as hermits or outcasts on the fringes of society, create their own world without even knowing that what they are doing belongs to the realm of the fine arts. They leave their mark on all sorts of supports, including embroidered cloth and painted walls. The works from a dozen museums as well as public and private collections in Europe and Brazil are being shown together here in Switzerland for the first time. The documentary films and photographs flanking them portray these unusual creators in their own homes or at their place of work and so invite visitors to immerse themselves in worlds that were never intended for public consumption.
Declarations of love, letters of rage, poems, prayers, erotic messages, pleas, diary-like notes, and utopian narratives: The in many cases little-known writings of Art brut creators astonish and fascinate. Mostly written behind closed doors, in silence and in secret, they often bear no address or were intended for a dreamlike or spiritual addressee.
The texts, written in peculiar calligraphy or hastily noted, at times embroidered or fervently carved in stone, are often supplemented with pictures or drawings. They reveal an impressive creativity, spring from an urgent or even compelling need to express oneself, and represent a kind of silent resistance.
Writing encourages introspection and becomes an important creative resource, at times paving the way for a search for identity or the invention of another life, and at other times enabling the construction of a new world or the reshaping of the cosmos. Slips and sheets of paper, booklets and volumes, body decoration and textiles become carriers of extravagant personal inscriptions, poetic and concrete at the same time. They support the persistent search of their authors: the search for the essence of things and words.
The thirteen authors (eccentric diarists, letter writers, or utopian authors) are imaginative and uninhibited in their use of syntax, grammar, and orthography. Instead of paying attention to conventions and norms, Adolf Wölfli, Arthur Bispo do Rosário, and Giovanni Battista Podestà – whom Jean Tinguely particularly appreciated – preferred to deal with new linguistic creations, semantic games, or graphic labyrinths of words, sentences, and signs.
The words dance across the paper, carton, fabric, wall, or floor, opening up surprising visual and pictorial dimensions. By bringing the letters to life and fusing word and image, the exhibits reveal a powerful and poignant poetry.
Art brut is a term that subsumes works by self-taught artists who develop their own means of expression and often work in complete isolation or at least in a highly reclusive manner – exclusively for themselves and outside all artistic circles. Often, they do not care about social conventions, refuse to follow cultural rules, and defy established norms. Instead, they create symbolic universes and cultivate a playful approach to forms of representation, ways of looking at things, and technical means. They create their works both imaginatively and unabashedly, without being conscious of the fact that they are working in the field of art.
Reclusive, eccentric, non-conformist: Art brut artists generally live on the fringes of society and find fulfillment and satisfaction solely in the expression of their own personal view of the world. They swim against the tide and feel no need for social or cultural recognition or appreciation. Their products have neither an intention nor an addressee in the conventional sense of the word, being addressed only to themselves or at times to an imaginary or spiritual being. They exist in isolation or exclusion and find no place in the community, into which they cannot or hardly want to fit. These artists find in symbolic expression a voice that has been denied them in real life.
The exhibition, presented for the first time, brings together roughly one hundred works from a dozen museums, as well as public and private collections in various European countries and Brazil. Documentary films invite the public to immerse themselves in the artists’ cosmoses and to experience them in their living and working environments. The exhibition is accompanied by a book with numerous texts and roughly 150 illustrations (Paris, Seuil).
Arthur Bispo do Rosário, Giovanni Bosco, Marie Lieb, Heinrich Anton Müller, Fernando Nannetti, Laure Pigeon, Giovanni Battista Podestà, Armand Schulthess, Constance Schwartzlin-Berberat, Charles Steffen, Pascal Vonlanthen, Adolf Wölfli und Carlo Zinelli.