« A child would do the same! » « We have heard it often, this antiphon, and again during our visit to the exhibition that the Villeneuve-d’Ascq museum is dedicating until February 27 to Paul Klee (1879-1940). The final sentence in this case was uttered by a lady for the benefit of her neighbor and, this time, we cannot say that she is wrong.
This is precisely what the curators of the exhibition have to say: to show how Klee was knowingly and conscientiously inspired by children’s drawings – some of them, by his son Félix, born in 1907, alongside his family along the way – but also of the art of prehistory, the first arts and the productions of the mentally ill to go in search of a freshness and a spontaneity which lacked in the art of its time.
Rich in 120 works and produced with the Zentrum Paul-Klee in Bern, which keeps its archives and all its studio collection, the exhibition was presented in the summer of 2021. It is divided into four parts, in a somewhat set design. rigid but with very clear pedagogy, documentation and chronology, each of which corresponds to one of the aforementioned sources of inspiration: « asylum art », « world arts », « prehistory » and « childhood » .
Jeanne-Bathilde Lacourt, curator of the exhibition with Fabienne Eggelhöfer and Sébastien Delot, explains: “From 1912, even before joining the Blaue Reiter movement, Klee said in the Swiss review Die Alpenthat we find in the mad as in the children or the so-called “primitive” peoples a same creative impulse. » An influence whose research by Fabienne Eggelhöfer, chief curator of the Zentrum Paul-Klee, in her archives and in the works of the artist’s library, made it possible to define the contours. « We even found objects that we thought were missing, such as these Oceanian spears which we knew had possessed but were unable to locate », adds the commissioner.
Art of the insane
Klee approaches this with great seriousness and consistency. He gets information, attends conferences, is in contact with doctors, including Walter Morgenthaler, the one who treated Adolf Wölfli (1864-1930), farmhand diagnosed with schizophrenia after having raped some young girls and main representative of the art gross in Switzerland. This interest in the art of the insane will not escape the Nazis, who will be happy, during their infamous exhibition on “degenerate art” in 1937, to compare modern art to that of the insane.
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