Lusanne's Art and Architecture

Geneva Journals Day 4
Thursday, February 23rd, 2012

18th century chateau stables, housing Jean Dubuffet's extensive Collection de l'Art Brut, which served as inspiration for his own paintings and sculptures

In the second week of February in Switzerland and France, most school children have their "ski holiday." Rental cars are scarce as families pack and leave for a week. As it turns out, this was an unexpected gift for us. We didn't realize when trains became our only option to explore and document residential architecture and historic preservation in other cities, that the Swiss rail system is simply the best way to get around the country. They work like a fine Swiss watch: impressively punctual, quiet, efficient, elegant, and simple to use. And, much more relaxing than trying to navigate unfamiliar Swiss roads, particularly when the weather is as unpredictable as it is this year in Europe. Buying tickets via kiosks that offer multi-lingual interfaces is also easy. Select your destination, class of travel, whether you want one-way or roundtrip tickets, and the machine will give you the price. Another bonus: for a small fee, you can add on all of your ground transportation in the city of destination and use the equally sleek and on-time buses. Keep your ticket, hop on the right bus, no need to present a ticket or meter it, unless asked.
Dubuffet painting

Jean Dubuffet "Tower of Lace"

For our first excursion outside Geneva, we decide to ride up the east side of the lake (Lac Leman) to Lausanne. Founded in the 4th century as a Roman settlement on the shores of Lake Geneva, Lausanne is Switzerland's center of French-speaking culture and life. It is the seat of the Federal Supreme Court and location for the International Olympic Committee headquarters. Beyond the facts is a city that feels young and vibrant. Its art museums and galleries push the edges of contemporary thinking and fashionable hipsters roam its streets. First on our list is a visit to the Collection de l'Art Brut, the personal Outsider Art collection of French painter and sculptor, Jean Dubuffet.

Jean Dubuffet (1901-1985) takes an idealistic approach to aesthetics, embracing so called "low art" and eschewing traditional standards of beauty in favor of what he believes to be a more authentic and deeper approach to image-making. Jean Dubuffet questions the culture of fine arts in Paris. He is one of the first artists to support and promote l'Art Brut, a term he coined in the 1940s for the art of people living at the margins of society. Outsider Art, as it is often called in the United States, includes the work of artists not influenced or trained in any fine art tradition. It also includes artists whose ideas for paintings, collages, sculptures, and weavings derive from their own impulses and imaginings, not from efforts to seek approval or recognition from the commercial art industry. After Dubuffet reads the writings of psychiatrist Hans Prinzhorn, Bildnerei der Geisteskranke (Artistry of the Mentally Ill), a book which is richly illustrated with examples, he realizes outsider art as a source of inspiration for his own art. Dubuffet's own collection is comprised of criminals, patients in mental hospitals, spiritual mediums, those who see 'visions,' the mentally challenged, and often those locked in compulsivity. The 18th century 4-story chateau stable that houses the collection is a piece of art in itself.

art brut
The Dubuffet collection, which numbers over 30,000 pieces, features 1000 refreshingly spontaneous works on fabric, scraps of wood, or fabrications of found objects on any given visit. Many of the artists originally started on the walls of prison cells and sanitariums. Some of the more indecent subject matter and materials artists used were the cause of their incarcerations. Next to the work of each artist exhibited is a biography, which lends insight into the artist's state of mind and context for the personal circumstances in which the works are created. Many are compulsive and relentless, producing thousands of pieces within short bursts of creative activity/lunacy. The influence on Dubuffet's own work is readily apparent: bright primary colors, heavy black figural outlines, and raw primitive surfaces.

Palais de Rumine

The south facade of Palais de Rumine, in the style of Florentine Renaissance architecture

After this intoxicating journey through four floors of "impulse art," we hop on one of Lausanne's sleek buses and ride to its historic City Centre. We spot a cozy brasserie offering a lunch special of fresh Lac Leman perch, pommes frites, vin rouge and crème brulee. It's then a short, cold walk to the Palais de Rumine to see the Beaux-Arts section. Steve is drawn to Beaux-Arts because of his training in the Beaux-Arts method in architecture school. The Palais de Rumine is designed in a Florentine Renaissance Style which places emphasis on symmetry, proportion, geometry and the regularity of parts as they are demonstrated in the architecture of classical antiquity and, in particular, ancient Roman architecture. Orderly arrangements of columns, pilasters and lintels, as well as the use of semicircular arches, hemispherical domes, niches and aedicules replace the more complex proportional systems and irregular profiles of medieval buildings prior to the Renaissance.


Swiss Train

Building begins in 1892 according to the design of the Lyonnais architect Gaspard André. Monumental columns, pergolas, loggias and bell towers adorn the 1906 building. The central portion joins two side wings and houses a highly elaborate section containing, among other things, a main staircase that creates an optical illusion effect, an atrium with a small pond, a network of galleries and overlapping ramps. Because of the era in which it is constructed, it is easy for us to see the dominant Beaux-Arts influence: rusticated and raised first story; a hierarchy of spaces from "noble" and grand to utilitarian; arched and pedimented doors; classical details with a tendency to eclecticism and symmetry. Today, the Palais de Rumine houses the cantonal museums of fine art, geology, zoology, archaeology and history, the Cantonal Money Museum, and the cantonal and university library.

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