Jean Dubuffet - Editions & Works on Paper New York Tuesday, April 19, 2022 | Phillips

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  • "There is only one healthy diet for artistic creation: permanent revolution." —Jean Dubuffet 

    During the production of Jean Dubuffet’s Site de Mémoire series, the floor and walls of his studio became extensions of his mind and canvas. Monumental in scale and produced in a small edition of 10, the imagery used to create Site de mémoire I began as a drawing with collage of the same image, titled Annale II, now held in the Fondation Jean Dubuffet, Périgny-sure-Yerres. Barbara Rose described Dubuffet’s process in her 1979 article for Arts magazine as, “he makes a huge variety of abstract patterns in acrylic on paper, cuts them up and glues the pieces in a kind of irregular quilt.” Stitched together from various locales of the artist’s own memory, the motifs present in the work are formed with the simultaneous notions of intention and fate present in daily life. The large-scale nature of these works creates an immersive panorama, not only engaging the viewer, but enveloping them in the landscape of the mind and memory. After producing several works in this series, Dubuffet decided to name the series after the “Theaters of Memory” imagined by 16th century Italian philosopher Giulio Camillo, which utilized the imagined architecture of ancient Roman theaters as a mnemonic device. The 1966 book The Art of Memory, by Frances Yates, brought the renaissance concept to the 20th century, and to Dubuffet himself, who identified with the ways that one can project memory and imagination into the everyday world. 
    "These assemblages have mixtures of sites and scenes, which are the constituent parts of a moment of viewing. Viewing by the mind, let us say, if not the immediate viewing by the eyes… The mind totalizes; it recapitulates all fields; it makes them dance together"
    —Jean Dubuffet 

    In the present work, our eye is led through a chaotic monochromatic field, the figures present in the work acting as life rafts in a sea of pattern and texture. In the exhibition text accompanying The Pace Gallery’s 1980 Recent Paintings show, art historian Peter Schjeldahl said “There is something essential here, I think, about the peculiar feeling that Dubuffet gives us – a feeling of joy in our humanity that might seem strange in being occasioned by human images so distorted, crazy, isolated and oppressed…The field seems, in fact, to have been made as wild as possible so that its taming by the images may be as dramatic as possible.” While the work is rooted in the randomization of Dubuffet’s collaging techniques, the composition is entirely intentional. The artist would swap in various elements until the ultimate balance was achieved. Diagonals lead our eye from one element to the next, the thick borders and lines within the work contain each figure, adding definition and creating order in a frenzied composition.  

    This series would be the last of Dubuffet's large-scale works. In his late seventies, his age and declining health would force him to work on smaller compositions for the remainder of his career. For Dubuffet, the desire for innovation would always be at the forefront of his oeuvre, serving as a source of inspiration for some of the greatest artistic talent of the late 20th century. It was his 1979 New York exhibition at The Pace Gallery that grabbed the attention of Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat, continuing Dubuffet’s legacy in the next generation of great contemporary artists.  Schjeldahl ends his exhibition foreword summarizing the artist’s legacy perfectly, “we are inclined to thank and salute Dubuffet, and to leave him, at age 79, where he has always been, in mid-career.” 

    • Provenance

      Pace Gallery, New York
      Private Collection, acquired from the above

    • Literature

      Max Loreau, Catalogue des travaux de Jean Dubuffet, fascicule XXXII: Théâtres de mémoire, Paris, 1982, no. 182b, p. 115
      Sophie Webel 1262

    • Catalogue Essay

      Site de mémoire I is the first of three images in this series Dubuffet created at Pace Editions in New York, and it is the first time this first version has come to auction.


Site de mémoire I (Memory Site I) (L. fasc. XXXII 182b, W. 1262)

Monumental screenprint in black and white, on canvas over wooden stretcher.
99 x 67 in. (251.5 x 170.2 cm)
Signed and numbered 8/10 in gray paint (there were also 3 hors commerce in Roman numerals), published by Pace Editions, Inc., New York, framed.

Full Cataloguing

$100,000 - 150,000 

Sold for $151,200

Contact Specialist

212 940 1220

Editions & Works on Paper

New York Auction 19 - 21 April 2022