0221 Painting in Danger: Jean Dubuffet’s Hautes Pâtes

  • Rachel Perry (Author)
    University of Haifa, Israel

    Rachel Perry is lecturer and fellow at the Strochlitz Institute, University of Haifa. She received her doctorate in art history from Harvard University, specializing in European art in the 1940s. Perry is the recipient of the Dedalus Foundation Senior Fellowship. Her articles have appeared in October, History and Memory, Les Cahiers du Musée national d’art moderne, Revue 20/21ème siècle, Holocaust Studies: A Journal of Culture and History, French Cultural Studies, and Art Bulletin.

Identifiers (Article)


Jean Dubuffet made his dramatic breakthrough into the art world in the spring of 1946 with what would become his signature innovation, the hautes pâtes (thick or high pastes). Experimenting with unorthodox materials and techniques, he loaded his canvases with materials so heavy and unstable that even before their public debut in the exhibition Mirobolus, Macadam et Cie., his unwieldy pastes began cracking, crumbling, and melting off the canvas and onto the floor. According to Dubuffet’s apologists, he welcomed these 'modifications', delighting in mutable, mutant materials that succumbed to the forces of gravity and entropy. Revisiting the story of Dubuffet’s meltdowns, this article highlights the uneasy double bind Dubuffet found himself in at the beginning of his career, as his theoretical interest in ephemerality gave way to his clients’ and dealers’ well-founded practical concerns over the longevity and material durability of his work.


Jean Dubuffet, materiality, ephemerality, entropy, hautes pâtes, gravity and art, horizontality, postwar French painting