Jean Dubuffet (1901-1985)
Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's… Read more THE COLLECTION OF MELVA BUCKSBAUM
Jean Dubuffet (1901-1985)

Clartés Alentour (Surrounding Clarity)

Jean Dubuffet (1901-1985)
Clartés Alentour (Surrounding Clarity)
signed and dated 'J. Dubuffet 56.' (upper right); signed, titled and dated ‘Clartés alentour J. Dubuffet juin 56’ (on the reverse); titled ‘Clartés alentour’ (on the stretcher)
oil on canvas collage laid down on canvas
37 ¼ x 25 1/8 in. (94.6 x 63.8cm.)
Executed in June 1956
Private Collection, London.
Marlborough Gallery, New York.
Mr. and Mrs. Otto Preminger, New York.
Richard L. Feigen & Co. Gallery, New York.
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1980.
D. Morosini, 'Una significativa mostra antologiga alla Malborough: Dubuffet e il gusto dell’arte infantile', in Paese Sera, 6 April 1963 (illustrated, n.p.).
M. Loreau (ed.), Catalogue des travaux de Jean Dubuffet, fascicule XII: Tableaux d’assemblages, Lausanne 1969, p. 130, no. 50 (illustrated, p. 53).
London, Arthur Tooth and Sons, The Exploration of Paint : Paintings by Karel Appel, Jean Dubuffet, Sam Francis, Paul Jenkins, Jean-Paul Riopelle, 1957, no. 8.
London, Arthur Tooth and Sons, Jean Dubuffet: Paintings 1943-1957, 1958, no. 21 (illustrated, unpaged).
Rome, Marlborough Galleria d'Arte, Dubuffet, 1963, no. 29 (illustrated, unpaged).
Berlin, Akademie der Künste, Jean Dubuffet Retrospektive, 1980-1981, no. 156 (illustrated, p. 343). This exhibition later travelled to Vienna, Museum Moderner Kunst; Vienna, Museum des 20. Jahrhunderts and Cologne, Josef-Haubrich-Kunsthalle.
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Katharine Arnold
Katharine Arnold

Lot Essay

‘In Dubuffet’s painting man becomes anonymous and both painter and figure are absorbed into a turbulent geography that has the quality of mineral or mud. Dubuffet reaches a “zero degree” of painting’
–Wilie Sypher

Created in 1956, the year after Jean Dubuffet had left Paris for the rural idyll of Vence, Clartés Alentour (Surrounding Clarity) is a romantic work from the artist’s important series of Tableaux dassemblages. It has been held in the same private collection for almost forty years. Representing the expressive apex of Dubuffet’s Art Brut engagement with the human form and the natural world, this vision of ‘surrounding clarity’ might even be seen as something of a self-portrait, its title highlighting the tranquil happiness he found in his new surroundings. A grinning figure, conjured from a patchwork of mauve and lilac canvas, stands within an intricate setting of earth and foliage. Arms expressively open, he tessellates into the scene as if perfectly at home. Beneath a luminous slab of sky, the landscape is formed of irregular sections of canvas in a rich array of purplish, green and russet hues. Separated by a bold, almost cloisonné line and speckled as if with moss or lichen, the sections’ effect is of a path of tightly-packed cobblestones, or the bricks of a drystone wall. Bright marblings of green and yellow echo variegated leaves and rough tree-bark; verdant hues and stars of flower-like shape proclaim the garden’s flora bursting into life.

With its scintillating, mosaic-like surface of texture and colour, Clartés Alentour stands among the most beautiful examples of Dubuffet’s radical ‘assemblage’ technique. Comprising multiple cut, collaged pieces of painted canvas applied like sections of stained glass, this method evolved from works Dubuffet had made in Chaillol in 1953, which employed the wings of butterflies in a similar manner. In Clartés Alentour, as in other Assemblages from this period, Dubuffet uses his inventive technique to pay homage to the beauty of his pastoral environment. Referencing naturally- occurring topographies and tones, the facets of canvas come together to create a sumptuous and seductive vision, as if the whole composition is dappled in sunlight. The vivid ‘all-over’ effect achieved in works like Clartés Alentour would lead later to the even earthier Texturologies of 1957-58, while the work’s totemic central figure looks back to the iconic Corps de Dames series of 1950, which mapped vast female forms as landscape-like expanses of textural pigment.

Dubuffet portrays the charming character in Clartés Alentour in a deliberately naïve and playful ‘anti-art’ idiom. Shifting away from the polished and artificial, this is a work that exemplifies Dubuffet’s Art Brut return to primitive nature: a mission that he saw as curative or even redemptive in the years following the horror of the Second World War. The Assemblage technique was particularly fruitful in bringing Dubuffet closer to the colour and forms of the natural world. In comparison to his previous collage work with butterfly wings, the Assemblages allowed Dubuffet to more closely approximate the fleeting polychrome complexities of his environment. He saw that the colours of nature – subject to continual variations in light and atmospheric conditions – were impossible to pin down in something as static as pigment. By bringing together disparate chromatic fragments, he ruptured all sense of tonal continuity, transforming the picture plane into a fluid, prismatic space. ‘From the start of these canvas cut-outs I sensed that I was going to find in them what I had vainly looked for in other means’, he explained; ‘… the colour was seemingly very much dispersed through the entire picture and in such a way as to make one forget it, to evade analysis by the eye, yet produce a glittering mother-of-pearl scintillation in which it is difficult to make out the particular colours that gave rise to it … By this entirely different use of colour, by taking away from it all decorative qualities and aiming uniquely at obtaining a striking effect of intense life, it seemed to me that I would be opening up a very vast field of new explorations’ (J. Dubuffet, quoted in A. Franzke, Jean Dubuffet, New York 1981, p. 105). Setting himself within his shimmering garden like a jewel, Dubuffet charges Clartés Alentour with this same ‘striking effect of intense life’, making an exultant and spirited statement of intent.



Across her many years in philanthropy, leadership, and collecting, Melva Bucksbaum stood as one of the art world’s most beloved figures. Tireless in her support of artists and their work, she held an unwavering belief in the power of the creative process to transform individuals and communities. In the manner of storied artistic patrons such as Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, Bucksbaum was a collector who blended “a private passion for art,” in the worlds of the New York Times, “with an invigorating public altruism.” In New York, Aspen, Washington, Des Moines, and beyond, Melva Bucksbaum sought to share her passion for art with all—an incomparable gift and truly enduring legacy.

Melva Jane Venezky was born in Washington, D.C. in 1933. Like many collectors, she developed an early affinity for art and objects. Childhood assemblages—described by Bucksbaum as “storybook dolls and glass animals and everything else”—proved harbingers of significant acquisitions in later years. In the nation’s capital, the young Melva spent countless hours exploring the galleries of the newly-inaugurated National Gallery of Art. “I could go downtown with a nickel at eight years old,” she recalled. “I just loved being in the National Gallery with all that art.” Beyond the immense inspiration gleaned from the museum’s paintings and sculptures—Bucksbaum later professed that, as a child, the sight of certain Renoirs would bring her to tears—she came to recognize the vital role of art and beauty in the public sphere. Having been forever changed by a museum whose existence depended on the resolute generosity of its patrons, Bucksbaum would choose to similarly devote herself to public institutions in later years.

A graduate of the University of Maryland, Melva Bucksbaum briefly aspired to be an artist. In 2014, she laughed, “The hand would never do what the head wanted it to do, so I had to get rid of that idea real quick.” In 1967, she married the Iowa real estate developer and entrepreneur Martin Bucksbaum. Together with his brothers, Mr. Bucksbaum built one of the United States’ first shopping centers, and transformed his family’s chain of grocery stores into the real estate giant General Growth Properties. Melva and Martin Bucksbaum settled in Des Moines, where they would raise three children: Gene, Glenn, and Mary. In Des Moines, Melva Bucksbaum became an active voice and supporter of local arts organizations and museums, including the Des Moines Art Center. For Melva Bucksbaum, Des Moines would forever be a cherished home—“where I really grew up in art,” she said. With the encouragement of James T. Demetrion, director of the Des Moines Art Center and future director of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, along with Michael Danoff, who followed Demetrion in Des Moines, Bucksbaum became a devoted advocate for local, national, and international artists.

For eighteen years, Melva Bucksbaum served on the Des Moines Art Center board of directors, including two years as president. She encouraged the institution to strengthen its commitment to artists both in Des Moines and further afield. Bucksbaum had “an informed eye,” noted current Art Center director Jeff Fleming, “an insistence on quality, and an insistence that the museum participate on a national and international level.” As a board member, Bucksbaum oversaw the appointment of architect Richard Meier to design the museum’s 1985 addition, assisted in the purchase of works for its permanent collection, and gifted important sculptures to the city of Des Moines. A true believer in the importance of community, Bucksbaum was a major force in the Des Moines Vision Plan, an urban revitalization initiative that included a sculpture park and other attractions. At Drake University, Martin and Melva Bucksbaum established an eponymous lecture series that continues to bring some of the world’s most prominent public figures to Iowa.

After the death of Martin Bucksbaum in 1995, Melva Bucksbaum began to divide her time between Aspen and New York, where she continued to express her genuine passion for art and community. For Bucksbaum, Des Moines would remain a place to return and visit the many “old friends”— whether fellow art patrons or cherished works of art—which she had loved alongside her husband. Upon relocating to New York, Bucksbaum joined the board of the Whitney Museum of American Art, where she served on the museum’s Acquisitions Committee. For some two decades, Bucksbaum was one of the Whitney’s most stalwart benefactors and advisors, rising to vice chairwoman and demonstrating what the Museum’s trustees described as “the risk-taking and artist-centric vision of Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney.” Bucksbaum’s innumerable contributions to the Whitney included dozens of important works by artists such as Dan Flavin, Carroll Dunham, Christo, Roy Lichtenstein, and others. Having lead the Des Moines Art Center in its Richard Meier- designed expansion, Bucksbaum similarly spearheaded the selection of an architect for the Whitney’s new downtown building, a process that culminated in Renzo Piano’s masterful West Chelsea creation.

Melva Bucksbaum’s unshakeable belief in the artistic process led to what is perhaps her greatest public feat: the Bucksbaum Award. Established in 2000, the biannual honor was the result of a breakfast conversation between Bucksbaum and then Whitney director Maxwell Anderson. The pair agreed that artists required a level of financial freedom to produce new and inspiring work—a mission in line with the principles of the museum’s founder, Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney. “I leaned over the table,” Bucksbaum recalled of the meeting, “and said, ‘Max, I think I can help you with this.’” The resulting Bucksbaum Award now stands alongside such cultural accolades as the Turner Prize and Pritzker Prize in its importance, with recipients chosen from artists represented in the Whitney Biennial. At one hundred thousand dollars, the Bucksbaum Award is the most generous in fine art, and recognizes the talent and imagination of an artist’s past, present, and future work. “You can tell the [Bucksbaum Award] is meant to make a significant difference in an artist’s life, and yet it’s given without strings,” enthused gallerist Helene Winer. “That’s because Melva is a good egg.” Ten years after its founding, Melva Bucksbaum wrote: “[M]y family and I are thrilled with the results from the Bucksbaum Award…. We are thrilled that we can call these artists our friends. And most of all, we are thrilled that this award has allowed each artist, in some way, to continue to create with even greater commitment to his or her work.”

Melva Bucksbaum’s “true gift,” as the Des Moines Register noted, “was recognizing fine art, and she generously shared that gift with art lovers from Des Moines to New York.” Indeed, the breadth and depth of her cultural and community- based philanthropy is truly inspiring. Among the institutions that counted Bucksbaum as a friend and trustee were the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, the Jewish Museum, the Harvard Art Museums, the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars, the Museum of Modern Art, Tate, the Drawing Center, the Aspen Art Museum, the Israel Museum, and the Foundation for Art in Embassies. Known for her “infectious optimism,” humor, and energy, Bucksbaum brought a selflessness informed by her belief that art belongs to everyone. “She set a shining example,” declared the Whitney Museum, “that a good life is made by giving back.”

Nowhere was Melva Bucksbaum’s commitment to art and artists more apparent than in her private collection, a carefully curated assemblage displayed with pride at her residences in New York, Connecticut, and Colorado. Known as a longtime proponent of Post-War and Contemporary art, Bucksbaum’s journey in collecting began with the acquisition of Old Master pictures. Through James T. Demetrion, her interests shifted to the work of Post-War European and American figures such as Jean Dubuffet, whose 1962 canvas Poiro Zanzibare Bucksbaum gifted to the Israel Museum. Upon moving to New York, she devoted more of her energies to acquiring examples by emerging and “unknown” artists — what Bucksbaum described as “very edgy Contemporary art.”

Melva Bucksbaum soon became a regular, oftentimes daily visitor to Contemporary art galleries, where she acquired works by established and emerging figures. “Sometimes the work goes in [Bucksbaum’s] powder room,” observed the New York Times in a 2003 profile, “[and] other times it goes in a museum.” For Bucksbaum, collecting presented an opportunity for dialogue with the numerous curators, gallerists, and artists she counted as friends and advisors. Moreover, it allowed her to hone a connoisseurial vision that embraced bold and challenging works. After lending an “in-your-face sexy” canvas by artist Lisa Yuskavage to the Whitney, Bucksbaum made a point of observing viewers’ reactions to the work. “Young people saw it and immediately they would say, ‘Wow’ or ‘Awesome.’ Older people didn’t seem so sure how to take it…. But they would stand for a long time and walk away nodding or shaking their heads. Either response is fine by me.”

In embracing work from the studios of artists both known and unknown, Melva Bucksbaum became a model for the kind of collecting that pushes against the status quo. “You make mistakes, you learn,” she admitted of her inclination toward new work. “You just keep going.” Bucksbaum’s interest in acquiring works by living artists was a natural extension of her patronage of institutions such as the Whitney Museum. In addition to supporting artists through the Bucksbaum Award and other initiatives, Melva Bucksbaum chose to live each day surrounded by the striking aesthetic explorations of Contemporary figures. As her collection evolved, works by younger and emerging artists joined painting, photography, and sculpture by master artists such as Cindy Sherman, Richard Serra, Robert Mapplethorpe, Nan Goldin, Agnes Martin, Gregory Crewdson, Kara Walker, Louise Bourgeois, Jenny Holzer, and others.

In 2005, Melva Bucksbaum embarked on one of the most ambitious projects of her many years in collecting: the construction of a dedicated exhibition and storage space on the grounds of her Sharon, Connecticut estate. “We have so much work in storage,” Bucksbaum told Art +Auction in 2010, “that we thought, ‘This is ridiculous. We don’t see anything.’ We forgot what we have.” Working alongside architect Steven Learner, she replaced an aging barn with an expansive art library and ‘The Granary,’ a light-filled repository and gallery space for the collection. Designed by Learner to sit cohesively within the natural landscape, the Granary allowed Bucksbaum to explore new possibilities in curating and display—a means to discover relationships between artists and works and revel in the achievements of the creative process.

In 2014, Melva Bucksbaum presented The Distaff Side at The Granary. Drawn from Bucksbaum’s private collection, the exhibition featured a diverse selection of works from over one hundred women artists, highlighting their successes across a range of media. “Melva Bucksbaum critically explores the ongoing conversation between past and present, between artists, between artworks and those who tend them, and between exhibitions and their publics, notably placing the women at the forefront,” wrote curator Joan Simon in the exhibition’s catalogue. “A bold accomplishment in its own right, The Distaff Side—as well as the collections from which it is drawn—offers an example for galleries and museums to note and perhaps also to follow.” An uncompromising reevaluation of “women’s work,” The Distaff Side was also a moving portrait of a collector who consistently chose to promote art’s power to challenge, provoke, and inspire.

In May 2015, the arts organization ArtTable presented Melva Bucksbaum with the Distinguished Service to the Visual Arts Award. It was an especially poignant moment for Bucksbaum, who was in the midst of a courageous battle with cancer. Upon her death three months later, the international art community mourned the loss of a treasured champion for art and ideas. “To know Melva was to love her, admire her, and be embraced by her warmth,” noted the trustees of the Whitney Museum; photographer Todd Eberle characterized Bucksbaum as a “divine, generous, singular soul.” Today, Melva Bucksbaum lives on not only in the exceptional fine art collection that bears her name, but in the many Contemporary artists who continue to draw inspiration from her passion, generosity, and spirit.

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