Autumn 2017 in London, and Pace Gallery has a small but impressive show of Dubuffet works from the mid to late 1970s on display.
Conventional wisdom, if such a thing exists, says that his early work was the best. Child-like single images - a street with various shops and people, a mound of earth, a man pissing - done in thick brownish oils. Like this one:
And by the time he’d got through the late 1960s phase of abstract stripey red white & blue pictures, the ones that look like Fernand Léger had been employed to design a toothpaste ad campaign that went badly wrong, it was all over, and Dubuffet was just phoning it in.
But no, as the show at Pace demonstrates, despite looking at first glance like a bunch of ‘will this do?’ scrawls on paper collaged onto canvas, Dubuffet’s work from this late-1970s period kicks hard, and repeatedly.
Put simply, they look so now. An angst-inducing barrage of screens, alerts, placeholder graphics and futile human gestures. And everything about their form emphasises this - the eye simply has no chance to rest.
Some of these pieces are gigantic - 2 x 4m or so - but also on display are a few much smaller works, which do a similar job with greatly reduced but equally skilful means - the equivalent of going from a William Faulkner novel to a Samuel Beckett short story:
It’s not insignificant that these pieces are from the era of punk. As with that art form, there’s poetry in the prose.
If you’ve not been before, you’ll find Pace London at 6 Burlington Gardens, London W1S 3ET. It’s round the back of the Royal Academy, in what used to be the Museum of Mankind many years ago. And the flooring is lovely.