New York

Jean Dubuffet

Théâtres de mémoire

May 18–Jun 29, 2018

Pace Gallery is honored to present the first exhibition of Jean Dubuffet’s Théâtres de mémoire series in New York since 1979.

Exhibition Details

Jean Dubuffet
Théâtres de mémoire
May 18 – Jun 29, 2018


510 West 25th Street
New York


Jean Dubuffet, Fortuite rencontre, September 25, 1979, acrylic on canvas-backed paper (13 sections), 20-1/16" × 13-3/4" (51 cm × 34.9 cm) © 2019 Artists Rights Society (ARS) / ADAGP, Paris

Curated by Arne Glimcher, the founder of Pace Gallery, the exhibition evolved from the critically successful presentation of the series at Pace Gallery in London in 2017 and showcases several monumental paintings from that exhibition, as well as new loans from major museums including the Albright-Knox Art Gallery and the National Gallery. These are complemented by significant paintings generously lent by Fondation Dubuffet, as well as works drawn from leading international private collections. An illustrated catalogue featuring an introduction by Arne Glimcher, a personal letter from Jean Dubuffet to Arne Glimcher and an essay by Dr. Kent Minturn will accompany the exhibition.

“These gigantic collages are composed of overlapping papers, layer upon layer, where Dubuffet has tested their placement by moving the elements, adding, rearranging, and deleting images until an eventual perfect coalescence of the interlocking parts satisfied the artist,” says Arne Glimcher. “It was the most thrilling moment in our career together.”

The Théâtres de mémoire is one of Dubuffet’s most important series of works, and contains some of the largest paintings he ever made. The series, which Dubuffet started at age 74, also marked a new technique for him and a redefinition of his art. Each work is a vast picture made up of smaller paintings, which the artist cut out and glued to the canvas. He began his process on his studio floor, where he would arrange different combinations of cut-out figures and scenes. He then used magnets to pin the paper or canvas to the wall, allowing him to easily replace one element with another, and to overlap segments until he reached his final compositions—some spanning up to nearly eight feet high by twelve feet wide.

The paintings depict abstractions, landscapes, scribbles and figures from Dubuffet’s mind. Dubuffet titled the series after Frances Yates’ book The Art of Memory, which presents the ‘memory techniques’ used by Cicero and orators in the Middle Ages that enabled them to remember storehouses of knowledge. For Dubuffet, each of the Théâtres de mémoire is a collection of actual places and scenes that crowd and conflict in our memory. Just as memories are hazy and incoherent, the compositions have no clear narrative or starting point. In Dramatisation (1978) for example, Dubuffet brings together 42- elements to create an energetic assemblage of large and small figures and abstractions. Dubuffet requires the viewers to participate in this frenzy of visual information, and asks them to get lost in contemplation and experience, in Dubuffet’s words, “viewing by the mind, not the eyes”.


Jean Dubuffet, Dramatisation, January 12, 1978, acrylic on paper mounted on canvas (42 sections), 82-11/16" × 10' 9-1/8" (210 cm × 328 cm) © 2019 Artists Rights Society (ARS) / ADAGP, Paris

Art, by its very essence, is of the new and views on art must also be of the new. There is only one healthy diet for artistic creation: permanent revolution.

Jean Dubuffet

Further highlights of the exhibition include Mêle moments (1976), Les données de I'instant (1977), and Site aux disjonctions (1977) on loan from the Fondation Dubuffet and private collections. These works depict individuals and groupings of figures executed in distinctive styles and colors that reference earlier phases in Dubuffet’s oeuvre. As explained by Dr. Kent Minturn in the catalogue essay: “The individual elements bring to mind many of Dubuffet’s past series, including his early Marionnettes de la ville et de la campagne (1942–45), Paris Circus (1961–62), l’Hourloupe (1962–74) and his more recent haphazard Crayonnages and Parachiffres (1974–75). They are the gateway to the artist’s chief interests and obsessions that will dominate the last ten years of his artistic production”.


Jean Dubuffet

Jean Dubuffet began painting at the age of seventeen and studied briefly at the Académie Julian, Paris. After seven years, he abandoned painting and became a wine merchant. During the thirties, he painted again for a short time, but it was not until 1942 that he began the work which has distinguished him as an outstanding innovator in postwar European painting.

Learn More

New York — Jean Dubuffet, Théâtres de mémoire, May 18–Jun 29, 2018