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Arne Glimcher and Jean Dubuffet

Essays

Jean Dubuffet's 1969 Letter to Arne Glimcher

Sep 18, 2020

Jean Dubuffet and Arne Glimcher’s long relationship began in a Paris café in 1966 and lasted until the artist’s death two decades later. In September of 1969, shortly before the opening of Dubuffet’s second solo exhibition with Pace in New York, the artist wrote to Glimcher describing the new body of work that would comprise the show: black-and-white sculptures from his Hourloupe cycle, which Dubuffet carved from blocks of polystyrene foam using a hot wire and painted with thick, black, meandering lines.

In this letter, pictured, translated, and transcribed below, Dubuffet explores the ideas behind the “ghostly” forms of his Hourloupe sculptures, which he describes as “belonging to the mental rather than the physical register” and offering “a new kind of architecture.” Today, these works are among Dubuffet’s most recognizable. One of the last remaining sculptures from the Hourloupe cycle intended to be realized as architecture, Pace is honored to present Dubuffet’s masterpiece Le cirque (1970-2020) at monumental scale for the first time ever.

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Jean Dubuffet to Arne Glimcher [1/5]

Paris, September 15, 1969

My dear Arnold Glimcher,

I am getting ready to make the poster which you requested for your exhibition, but first I must find a generic name for the constructions with a graphic message that are to be on view, and this search has been difficult. The name should, theoretically, lead the viewer to understand the purpose of the present constructions, the state of mind out of which they grew.

I thought first of the two terms “mont-joies” and “cairns,” both of which refer to a heap of stones raised often at a crossroad as a landmark or a commemorative moment. This is, indeed, an aspect of these constructions and one which I have seen in them. But, aside from the fact that the two terms are little known and risk being unintelligible, they do not allow for the figurative (or shall we say allusive), which are actually evocative character of these piles or arrangements,

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Jean Dubuffet to Arne Glimcher [2/5]

which are actually evocative of commonplace objects, pieces of furniture, figures, landscapes and places. Such themes are here deliberately treated in the manner previously used in my Hourloupe paintings, that is, in a meandering, uninterrupted and resolutely uniform line, which brings all planes to the surface and takes no account of the concrete quality of the object described, its size and position but, rather, abolishes all the usual categories and classifications of one notion and another, of the notion of chair, for instance, as distinct from that of tree, person, cloud, earth, landscape, or what you will. Thus this constantly uniform line, applied to all things (and, I insist, not only to the things we see but also to those which have no concrete being but are mere figments of caprice or imagination,

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Jean Dubuffet to Arne Glimcher [3/5]

all of them mingled indiscriminately together), reduces them to a common denominator and restores to us a continuous, undifferentiated universe. It melts down the mental classifications which we apply to the interpretation (or, rather, the listing) of everyday facts and sights and, in this way, the play of our minds between one object or category or another is liberated and acquires notably greater mobility.

This uniform, departicularizing line, applied indifferently to all objects and extended, without a break, to mental as well as physical phenomena, I associate with the idea of a new logos. Hence the titles which I have frequently pinned to objects of the Hourloupe cycle, such as “Boundary to the Logos,” “Outpouring of the Logos,” “Element of the Logos,” “Logological Site” and so on. It may be objected that I endow this word with the opposite of its usual meaning, since it commonly designates the mental operation of naming and classification, whereas my intention is, on the contrary, to wipe out categories and turn back to an undifferentiated continuum. But the aim of these works is, by breaking down the conventional logos, to set up or, rather to suggest a new one, to reveal the arbitrary and specious character of the logos with which we are familiar and the enduring possibility of reinterpreting the world and basing our thinking on a logos of a very different kind.

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Jean Dubuffet to Arne Glimcher [4/5]

On these considerations I thought of giving the works presented in your exhibition the name of Logogriphs, compounded from logos and another Greek word which means “net,” or, by extension, “riddle” or “enigma.” But this name could be equally well applied to all the Hourloupe figures, notably to those of the playing cards, and it does not adequately account for the particular characteristics of the subjects here on view, for the fact that they are presented not on flat canvas but on three-dimensional solids, that they consist only of black tracings on a white background, that they are made up of pieces piled up one on top of another and, above all, that they have an ambiguous ordering, which makes for an uncertainty as to the difference between the function of material objects and that of objects’ immaterial figuration. I should like to explain this important point, which I fear may seem at first obscure. When a painter figures a chair, interpreting and denaturing its aspect according to his whim, the onlooker does not confuse the proposed figuration with the actual chair from which the painter worked. But if the figuration is not merely presented on canvas but is built up into a three-dimensional object, then he no longer sees it in a mental process, the intellectual interpretation of a chair,

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Jean Dubuffet to Arne Glimcher [5/5]

but, rather a concrete object, a new chair that is offered to him as a seat. Of course, the works which go to make up the present exhibition are strictly mental evocations. Their material quality is specious and not to be taken at its face value. They are the materialized constructions of a mental process, and we must not let their objective form deceive us. Their materialization is alien to the world of bodies, as much and even more as is ectoplasm to spirit. Hence, in my opinion, they do not belong to the realm of sculpture but, rather, to that of painting, painting which, in this instance, has been, by exception, endowed with a body, that is, corporalized, objectivated painting. In order to point up this very particular aspect I toyed for a moment with the name of “Figure-bodies” or “Semblance-substances,” or, in order to stress the fact that they are in black and white, to the exclusion of color, “Embodied Graphics.” I thought also of the name—obviously too long—of “Mental drifts endowed with a physical body.”

These various ideas eventually came to seem somewhat heavy and awkward, and finally I settled upon the name—assuredly more imprecise and lending itself to misinterpretation by silly people (to whom, however, these works are not addressed)—of “Simulacres,” which hints, not too explicitly, at their phantasmic and illusory quality. For the dictionary meaning of “simulacre” is “unreal semblance” or “mock appearance,” terms which are also applied to ghosts.

With warmest regards —

Jean Dubuffet

Essays — Jean Dubuffet's 1969 Letter to Arne Glimcher, Sep 18, 2020