Jean Dubuffet (1901-1985)
Property from a Los Angeles Collection
Jean Dubuffet (1901-1985)

Le Dandy

Jean Dubuffet (1901-1985)
Le Dandy
signed with the artist’s initials and dated ‘J.D. 73/82’ (on the right foot)
polyurethane paint on epoxy resin with metal base
128 x 73 1/2 x 28 3/8 in. (326 x 187 x 72 cm.)
Executed in 1973/1982.
PaceWildenstein, New York
Maguire Properties, Los Angeles, circa 1980
Acquired from the above by the present owner, circa 1983
M. Loreau, Catalogue des travaux de Jean Dubuffet, Fascicule XXVIII: Roman Burlesque, Sites tricolores, Paris, 1979, p. 26, no. 16 (small-scale maquette illustrated).

Lot Essay

An important example of Jean Dubuffet’s late-career turn to monumental sculpture, Le Dandy epitomizes a key moment in the French master’s oeuvre while at the same time referencing some of his earlier achievements on canvas. Directly related to the artist’s immense L’Hourloupe Cycle, which he worked on from the early 1962 to 1974, Le Dandy is one of dozens of specific characters to populate that work, along with the likes of Le Commodore, Le Badaud and La Casquettador. In realizing the most ambitious undertaking of his career, Dubuffet mined the figures that had defined his earlier work. Le Dandy, with its mask-like face and totemic proportions, recalls his paintings and drawings from the ‘40s and ‘50s, whose deceptive simplicity reflects Dubuffet’s disdain for academicism and his outright dismissal of traditional artistic norms.

Standing over ten feet tall, Le Dandy is both physically imposing and visually inviting. Its massive, nearly abstracted face suggests a primitive approximation thereof, while its tightly delineated features give it a detectable personality. With a short torso and large, elongated limbs, the sculpture reflects Dubuffet’s career-long investigation of the human body and the representation thereof. Realizing the expressive possibilities of altering the natural human form, Dubuffet’s work often features decidedly non-naturalistic human proportions and renderings. Lavishly decorated, Le Dandy’s body appears as if covered by some sort of armor or a flamboyant coat, with various protrusions and projections obscuring the figure’s implied body.

Taking the title into consideration, the figure is probably more likely to don a luxurious coat than a suit of armor. A romanticized archetype in French culture, the dandy represents the pinnacle of leisure and constitutes a lynchpin of French society’s collective imagining of itself. First described in the 18th century, the dandy is a man of some means, concerned as much—or more—with appearance and reputation than with substance and character. Perhaps a sendup of this storied cultural trope, Dubuffet’s Le Dandy expansive renders him slightly menacing: a characteristic essential to Dubuffet’s best work but antithetical to the dandy lifestyle. The choice of subject also recalls the artist’s disdain for traditional notions of beauty which, of course, the dandy relies upon in his everyday life.

Indeed, Le Dandy and the other sculptures in the L’Hourloupe Cycle form a sort of societal portrait, or an entire world populated by Dubuffet’s inimitable cast of characters. Resulting from the master’s thoughtful self-appraisal of his career up to the early ‘60s, when he was honored with a retrospective at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris in 1960 and then another at the Museum of Modern Art, New York in 1962, the L’Hourloupe Cycle is the product of a career’s worth of artistic production. In surveying his previous efforts, Dubuffet described his oeuvre in terms of two distinct poles: “In all my works there are two different winds that blow, one carrying me to exaggerate the marks of invention and the other the opposite, which leads me to eliminate all human presence and to drink from its absence” (Dubuffet, Jean. “L’Hourloupe.” Dubuffet Foundation, Official Website.

The Hourloupe Cycle eventually led into the Coucou Bazar, a massive, immersive performance in which Dubuffet-designed costumed dancers and animatronic characters moved around the stage. A total work of art, Dubuffet sought to blur the boundaries between painting, sculpture, and performance. His Coucou Bazar was designed to transcend categories and confuse those who would seek to limit it to one or another. Nevertheless, Dubuffet saw this hybrid project as an offshoot of his painterly practice. Writing in 1973 as the production was set to premier, Dubuffet described it as “a painter’s work rather than a playwright’s or a choreographer’s.” Indeed, Dubuffet’s first love, from which his sculpture and all other artistic pursuits sprang, was painting.

Despite a turn toward bold primary colors from the earthier tones of his younger years, Le Dandy retains certain unmistakable elements of the artist’s earlier output, with most of the similarities found in the compositional and line work. A natural continuation of his earlier efforts, Le Dandy marks a refinement in Dubuffet’s work, in which his compositions, lines and colors became more direct, graphic and concise. As a quintessential example of Dubuffet’s later Art Brut style, Le Dandy emphasizes his intuitive, accessible visual style and searching, winding lines which suggest an illusory spontaneity. Thick black lines, like borders on an imagined map, sectionalize the sculpture’s surface while diagonal bands of red and blue—varying in direction, thickness and frequency—fill in the organic, irregular planes. Smaller sections are colored by solid red or blue while a number of larger ones are left white.

What results is a slyly radical take on painted sculpture, in which various uniformly shaded passages delineate the sculpture’s form. As opposed to a traditionally modeled sculpture, Le Dandy is composed of planar elements which coalesce into the finished, three-dimensional sculpture. Likewise, its volume is prismatic, with individual elements modeled more like shallow boxes than the typical rounded sculpture. Further departing from traditional notions of three-dimensional art, Le Dandy is a conversation between Dubuffet’s innate painterly instincts and his sculptural practice. Unlike a bronze, which arrives from the foundry in its fully finished state, Le Dandy would be unfinished and largely incomprehensible without Dubuffet’s subsequent, activating intervention.

As an important part of a massive and hugely ambitious undertaking, Le Dandy is an essential record of the later stages of Dubuffet’s long and remarkably productive career. Combining his older theories on the purpose of art in society with a fresh new aesthetic direction, L’Hourloupe is, perhaps, the highlight of the artist’s production. Unyielding in his pursuit of formal innovation, Dubuffet’s insistence on pushing the envelope, even into his final years, resulted in a powerfully varied but unusually singular body of work. Le Dandy, with its cultural associations and humorous take on a traditional French stereotype, is a record of the puckish Dubuffet exploring both the culture in which he lives and, in the case of the L’Hourloupe Cycle, the culture he creates.

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