For its twelfth showing of a private collection, la maison rouge invites Bruno Decharme to present his exceptional collection of art brut. The genre has, in recent years, gained prominence: the market for art brut has taken off worldwide; specialised galleries and fairs are increasingly numerous; art brut features in exhibitions of contemporary art, including the last Venice Biennale (curated by Massimiliano Gioni). Art brut raises questions. La maison rouge stages regular showings of art brut and its founder, Antoine de Galbert, is also a collector.

Since la maison rouge opened in 2004, we have sought to make bridges between different fields of creativity through exhibitions that show art brut alongside contemporary works (Arnulf Rainer’s collection of art brut and Inspired Artists: Elmar Trenkwalder and Augustin Lesage), or which return to major corpuses such as those of Louis Soutter or Henry Darger. As part of this ongoing cycle showing private collections, we felt the time had come for us to turn our attention to the largest private collection of art brut in the world.

Bruno Decharme has assembled his collection over more than thirty years. It now comprises 3,500 works by 300 artists from numerous countries and from the mid-1800s to the present day. Some of these works were produced in mental institutions, others in the solitude of our towns and villages. Some are mediumistic works, others are folk objects which escape the conventions of tradition.

Bruno Decharme’s collection descends from the collecting and research undertaken by pioneering psychiatrists such as Hans Prinzhorn, or artists and writers such as André Breton. Such works were theorised in 1945 by Jean Dubuffet who invented the concept of art brut (“outsider art”). By placing these productions under the umbrella of art, Dubuffet initiated a radical paradigm shift that incites us to rethink our idea of art.

Most of these artists create with a quite different purpose than to make art. They can have a message for God or a mission to fulfl; they may be communicating with spirits or creating a protective talisman.

Through their visions, which we could qualify as delirious, each of them touches on a form of understanding that echoes universal and fundamental questions: “Who are we? Where are we from? Where are we heading?” Despite this, they have no artistic belonging. They are often isolated, ignore each other’s very existence and consequently do not form any kind of ideological or stylistic school. Bruno Decharme’s practice is part of a wider project: that of a collector and filmmaker, but also the founder of Association abcd, a non-profit organisation which in 1999 opened his collection to the public. Presided by Barbara Safarova, Abcd (art brut connaissance & diffusion) is a research body which presents its findings through publications, seminars, exhibitions and films.

The exhibition at la maison rouge, curated by Bruno Decharme and Antoine de Galbert, will show a selection of some 400 works (drawings, paintings, sculptures, photographs, assemblages, etc.) by 200 artists. Spread across each of the gallery spaces, it will progress through different stages marked by keywords and themes which, though subjectively arranged, are linked by questions of universal relevance. This will give rise to juxtapositions that go against the “categorisations” more usually applied in art brut —the mentally alienated, mediums, the marginalised— and which refer only to the artists’ status.

Prey to the disorder of the world and the difficulties that lay along life’s path, art brut artists confront us with the creative act in its literal state.

Each of these works is an answer to the question, what does it mean to be here on this planet?

This exhibition is a kind of metaphor for a journey that brings us from the beginning of life —the original chaos— to a form of ecstasy, a “superior knowledge” delivered by these artists of a particular kind, certain of whom believe they can save the world.

At certain points in the exhibition, there will be a focus on art brut’s emblematic artists, some acknowledged decades ago and others more recently discovered, including Aloïse Corbaz, Henry Darger, Janko Domsic, Hans-Jörg Georgi, Zdenek Kosek, Augustin Lesage, Alexandre Lobanov, Lubos Plny, Martin Ramirez, Judith Scott, Carlo Zinelli and Adolf Wölfli.