Jean Dubuffet in front of costumes from Coucou Bazar, Périgny-sur-Yerres, France, 1977. Artworks © ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2021. Photo © Archives Fondation Dubuffet, Paris. Photo: Azoulay


Otherworldliness in Jean Dubuffet’s “Coucou Bazar”

Published Aug 15, 2021

To mark London Gallery Weekend earlier this summer, Pace staged Fragments: Coucou Bazar, a capsule performance of Jean Dubuffet’s famed animated painting that debuted at the Guggenheim Museum in New York in 1973. Presented outside the gallery’s space in the English capital as part of its Pace Live program, the event featured two performers—Tamara Astor and Lillie Hedderwick Turner—taking up the roles of Le Patibulaire and Neanter, two characters from the full, original version of the work, lent by the Dubuffet Foundation.

With Coucou Bazar, Dubuffet set out to bring his multifarious abstractions to life through what he described as a “spectacle.” Eschewing theatrical conventions in favor of the expansive possibilities of painting, the artist was intensely interested in upending viewers’ expectations and disrupting their modes of perception in the process. The large-scale performance, which encompasses 20 characters in elaborate costumes made of various materials, dissonant music and sounds, and “praticables”—mobile paintings bearing dizzying forms—exemplifies the artist’s ability to blur the boundary between art and life. He imbued his works with illusionistic, shapeshifting elements, dispatching viewers and, in the case of Coucou Bazar, performers to other worlds.

“The aim is to make the spectator consider all the elements in the ensemble capable of movement and not just those which are in fact mobile,” Dubuffet wrote of Coucou Bazar in a 1972 memo. “All must be endowed with a semblance of life, or at least an intensification of their powers to evoke a world of uncertain and unstable figures, which are perpetually shifting in and out of transitory combinations and transformations.”

As Elodie Bergerault, choreographer of Fragments: Coucou Bazar, explains in the film documenting the making of the performance, the costumes for the work have a totalizing effect on their occupants. “You have to feel,” she says of the importance of embodying Dubuffet’s characters in Coucou Bazar. “This is the spirit of your performance: to feel the costume, and then to tell you a story. You have to find a story for you.”


Le Patibulaire and Neanter (costumes worn by dancers) during the exhibition Coucou Bazar at Musée des Arts décoratifs, Paris, 2013. Artworks © ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2021. Photo © Archives Fondation Dubuffet, Paris. Photo: Fondation Dubuffet

Heavy and multifaceted, the costumes dictate performers’ speed and range of movements. Dubuffet wrote in the 1972 missive that “those who wear the costumes should move only slightly and very slowly. At times they should even remain completely motionless.” As Astor put it, “No movement is extraneous. Everything is very deliberate—a conversation with the audience.”

The artist’s explorations of objecthood are also on full view in the Coucou Bazar costumes, regardless of whether they are experienced from without or within. “Being inside the costume definitely feels like you’re in a different universe,” Hedderwick Turner said of donning her costume with the help of a team. “You kind of get transformed or taken into that universe as the costume is assembled.”

The transportive qualities of Coucou Bazar are evident in much of Dubuffet’s work, including pieces from his storied Hourloupe cycle spanning 1962 to 1974. Many of the large-scale architectural and sculptural interventions in that series, including Closerie Falbala in Périgny-sur-Yerres, France and the Groupe de quatre arbres in New York, are among Dubuffet’s most famous artworks today. Like Pace’s Fragments: Coucou Bazar performance on the streets of London, experiential works from this prolific period of Dubuffet’s career—representing the longest lasting cycle of his practice—beckon viewers into realms beyond their immediate environments.

  • Films — Otherworldliness in Jean Dubuffet’s “Coucou Bazar”, Aug 15, 2021