Bernard Buffet
Painter

April 18 – August 3, 2008

Le grand jeu II (The grand game II), 1977

130 x 162 cm Oil on canvas Courtesy Galerie Maurice Garnier

Bernard Buffet Raumaufnahme

Left: Femmes déshabillées: Femme couchée (Undressed women: Lying women), 1965 200 x 300 cm, Öl auf Leinwand Right: Bernard Buffet Femmes déshabillées: Femmes assises (Undressed women: Seated women), 1965 248 x 199 cm, Oil on canvas Courtesy Galerie Maurice Garnier

Orang-outan femelle (Orang-Utan-Weibchen), 1997

162 x 130 cm Oil on canvas Courtesy Galerie Maurice Garnier

 

As the first major museum exhibition in Germany for many years, the MMK Museum für Moderne Kunst is showcasing 60 works by Bernard Buffet (1928 – 1999) stretching across six decades of artistic endeavor. The exhibition is thus dedicated to an artist who was once feted as being one of France’s most important painters and the legitimate successor of Picasso. As the »painter of existentialism« and the man who found the images to describe post-War sensitivities, Buffet’s works had a visual presence and renown in West Europe that almost no other painter has achieved since. This immense popularity in the 1950s and 1960s was followed by critics and the institutional art world both rejecting his work most incisively. The vitriolic tone of this rejection intimates that Buffet should be considered someone who was suppressed rather than forgotten. And a knowledge of his oeuvre is usually based on a few themes that thanks to their mass dissemination and popularity have taken deep root in our memories. This limited awareness contrasts sharply with the sheer infinite range of his subject matter and his incredible productivity.

He hardly varied his style through the decades, and more recent commentators have termed it »congealed«, »frozen« and »cold«, but with it Bernard Buffet transformed an inconceivable number of themes, be they violent or trivial, into paintings. His oeuvre contains series of works on the Passion of Christ, on Dante’s »Divine Comedy«, or on the theme of death, just as it does cityscapes, apes and automobiles. Thanks to this unmistakable style, Bernard Buffet emerged as a trademark brand, one also lent expression by his exalted signature. Bernard Buffet quite vehemently insisted on calling himself a painter, not an artist. Art that was not bonded to craftsmanship and mastery was, so he felt, trickery. His traditional view of art and of his role also set him apart from the world of painting that surrounded him in the closing stages of the 20th century, which not infrequently endeavored to salvage something by relying on irony. Unlike this approach, Buffet painted beyond all ironic reservations. His retention of figuration and the traditional themes of the history of painting was (as regards the financial success of the undertaking) considered conservative, not to say reactionary. With his insistence on continuing down the path he had initially embarked on he exposed himself to criticism and the accusation that he merely created kitsch. The one camp considered his brush style anachronistic and repetitive, the other discerned usually based on a few themes that thanks to their mass dissemination and popularity have taken deep root in our memories. This limited awareness contrasts sharply with the sheer infinite range of his subject matter and his incredible productivity.

He hardly varied his style through the decades, and more recent commentators have termed it »congealed«, »frozen« and »cold«, but with it Bernard Buffet transformed an inconceivable number of themes, be they violent or trivial, into paintings. His oeuvre contains series of works on the Passion of Christ, on Dante’s »Divine Comedy«, or on the theme of death, just as it does cityscapes, apes and automobiles. Thanks to this unmistakable style, Bernard Buffet emerged as a trademark brand, one also lent expression by his exalted signature. 

 


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