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An inside look at “outsider art”

Michel Thévoz with works of outsider art in the Lausanne collection Keystone Archive

The latest in a series of books about art museums in Switzerland is devoted to one of the world's finest collections of what is described as "outsider art".

Known in French as “Art Brut”, or raw art, the concept dates back to around 1945 and is generally attributed to the French painter Jean Dubuffet – although awareness of it began with research by psychiatrists in the early 20th century.

Dubuffet said the term embraced works that were in their raw state, immune from cultural and artistic influences, adding that “their creators take all subjects and materials from their own individuality and not from the base of classical art or stylish trends.”

In fact the purest of Art Brut creators would not consider themselves artists, nor would they even feel that they were producing art at all.

Dubuffet built up a collection of thousands of innovative works bearing no relation to developments in contemporary art, and presented it to the city of Lausanne. In 1976 it was given a permanent home in the Chateau de Beaulieu, which has since become a shrine for anyone interested in Art Brut.

The new book on the subject is edited by the museum’s founding curator, Michel Thévoz, and is part of a series published by Banque Paribas (Suisse) in cooperation with the Swiss Institute for Art Research.

Thévoz, who retired as curator in September, is regarded as one of the world’s leading experts on Art Brut. He says its practitioners tend to be “mentally or socially marginal…prisoners, patients of psychiatric hospitals or other institutions…individuals who have a social status removed from the constraints of cultural conditioning.”

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR