Viatte (Germain) : L’Envers de la médaille — Mondrian, Dubuffet, les pouvoirs publics et l’opinion

Can we forget it ? The life of an artist is a struggle. Against oneself, against conventions and taste, against economic and sometimes political powers, but above all against the smugness of the parvenus, indifference and blindness.
Here are two examples to which Germain Viatte has attached himself. Nothing seems to unite Mondrian and Dubuffet - however, for both of them, it took until they were in their forties to reveal their radical and singular artistic personality, and to affirm its development and importance, despite the difficulties, the rejections, and thanks to the clear-sightedness of a few artists, writers, merchants, accomplices or amateurs, and finally the public authorities themselves, who allowed their work to become established.
By following the chronology of the documentary data very precisely, Germain Viatte, without fear of revealing painful or scabrous moments, illustrates in this essay a little-known or hidden aspect of artistic life in France since the beginning of the 20th century.

2021 / 16x20cm / 424 p. / ISBN : 978-2-85035-036-8

Date de publication : 25 mai 2022

Mondrian and Dubuffet, both men and works, do not at first sight bear any resemblance. However, the temporality of the affirmation of their artistic personality, and especially the relationship of public opinion and institutions to their work, present such analogies that they may seem not only instructive, but significant and even exemplary with regard to certain aspects of twentieth-century artistic life in France. "Germain Viatte notes that "Both of them had to face the insistent blindness of opinion, even specialised opinion, and, for Dubuffet, a consenting adversity, which did not subside until the beginning of the 1970s, even making him fear losing his position as ’public enemy’...". It is true that to establish this observation, the viewpoint of an "insider" doubled as a historian was needed.
Based on a meticulous documentary work that gives the greatest place to the individual point of view of the actors of the story - artists, writers, dealers, accomplices, amateurs and museum representatives -, L’Envers de la médaille, as its title suggests, depicts the dark side of two brilliant artistic successes : two itineraries marked by an isolation that was sometimes suffered, sometimes chosen, and marked, or crowned, by more or less successful public acquisitions. In this respect, the story of Dubuffet’s "pieds-de-nez" to official cultural institutions (donation of more than one hundred and fifty of his works to the private Musée des Arts Décoratifs, installation of the Collection de l’Art Brut in Lausanne), or that of the "Mondrian Affair" (a project to purchase forgeries by the fledgling Centre Pompidou in 1978) are only the most sensational episodes in the reconstruction carried out by Germain Viatte, a leading witness.
Reconstruction or inventory ? The author, a participant in the early days of the Beaubourg adventure, points out in conclusion : "These two texts have long remained in my drawers, blocked by a sort of embarrassment in the face of the contradictions they may reveal in the delicate exercise of museums in a supposedly glorious time, that of the 1960s and 1970s, which saw the erection in the heart of Paris of a truly extraordinary architectural and urban object, the Centre Georges Pompidou". By perpetuating the memory of these artists’ itineraries, it provides important elements for reflection on museum policies, at a time when Beaubourg "will have to face new conditions of influence as well as a major architectural renovation".

Born in 1939 in Quebec City, Germain Viatte is an honorary curator general of heritage. After having worked in the inspection of provincial museums, he participated from 1966 in the creation of the Centre national d’art contemporain and the Centre Pompidou and was from 1975 to 1985 curator of the collections department of the Musée national d’art moderne at the Centre Pompidou (1975-1985). He was then director of the musées de la ville de Marseille (1985-1989), head of the general inspection of classified and controlled museums (1989-1991), director of the Musée national d’art moderne and the Centre de création industrielle at the Centre Pompidou (1991-1997). After participating in the prefiguration mission, he was, from 1999 to 2005, director of the museological project of the musée du quai Branly, and at the same time, from 2000 to 2003, director of the Musée des arts d’Afrique et d’Océanie.

Foreign Rights

L’Atelier contemporain attempts to publish books of art and literature and books which associate artists and writers, with the concern to revive a dialogue between the literary and plastic arts.
The ambition is to explore the « paths of the création » through five collections gathered within the company : essays on art, written by artists, conversations and correspondences, monographs, and literature.

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