A commentary on the Prinzhorn Collection 1950

Dubuffet's List

17 December 2015 - 10 April 2016

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On 11 and 12 September 1950, the French painter Jean Dubuffet (1901-1985) visited the Prinzhorn Collection in Heidelberg – just five years after he had coined the term "Art Brut" for a raw, unpolished, not academic form of art. In a list, he reported on and evaluated the works he saw – usually in a few words like “extremely interesting”, “pretty good” or “mediocre”. The exhibition reconstructs Dubuffet's view of the collection as comprehensively as possible.

Prinzhorn's book Artistry of the Mentally Ill was an important guide to the possibilities in the works of art – for Dubuffet, as well as for many other artists. With his assessment of the collection, Dubuffet tried to distance himself from his great idol, but his impression was not nearly as negative as it has been suggested by art historians for a long time. That his view of Prinzhorn "masters" was sometimes critical, but his assessment of the collection as a whole was very positive, is a surprising finding of the exhibition. On display are 120 works, including famous classics like Bühler’s Fantasy Animal (for Dubuffet only "mediocre") and Natterer’s World Axis with Hare ("no big deal"). But, also works of artist disregarded by Prinzhorn have now been brought to view for the first time because of Dubuffet's review, e.g. an anonymous artist (case 419), who developed a fascinating figurative cosmos on tobacco paper (“extremely interesting”).

In the entrance cabinet of the museum, the artist Janet Gray puts Dubuffet's historical reception in a contemporary context with her video project "extremely interesting". A group of observers gives image descriptions of selected works, which Dubuffet assessed, and describe their personal impressions. The video documents the description, but not the works themselves. Visitors are thus forced to create their own images based on the descriptions they hear.