7 questions to gallerist Christian Berst on how he put art brut on the map


Art brut, a phrase coined in the 1940s by French artist Jean Dubuffet, identifies a class of art that operates outside of what he calls “cultural art,” or the fine arts that are beholden to academic and cultural prescriptions and principles. Since its creation in 2005, Christian Berst has placed art brut artists at the forefront of his Parisian gallery’s programming and has proven that the genre is as powerful and relevant today as when Dubuffet identified it. for the first time.

This week, Christian Berst Art Brut will exhibit the work of Éric Benetto at Paris+ by Art Basel (October 20-23), and next month will exhibit the work of Jorge Alberto Cadi at Paris Photo (November 10-13). Ahead of these shows, we spoke with Berst about his journey to founding his eponymous gallery, how the reception of art brut has changed 17 years later, and what we need to know about the upcoming presentations of Cadi and Benetto.

Christian Berst Art Brut opened its doors in 2005. Can you tell us about your journey up to the opening of the gallery? How did you start getting interested in the arts?

It is a story of epiphany, of revelation. Although I was already an art lover, I only knew Art Brut from Dubuffet’s texts. Nothing predestined me to open a gallery; I come from the literary web and publishing. It was therefore logically thanks to books that I discovered art brut 30 years ago – institutions hardly ever showed it at the time. Fifteen years after this discovery, and noting that people were convinced by art brut when they saw it, I decided to become an emissary by creating this specialized gallery.

Since you started, what are some of the biggest lessons you’ve learned? Do you have any advice for young or new art gallery owners?

The poet René Char wrote: “Impose your luck, cling to your happiness and go to your risk. By looking at you, they will get used to you. I always have this precept in mind. But in reality, everyone must seek the meaning of what they want to do, what motivates them. And then you have to be unshakeable in your determination, you have to be stubborn. Remember this is not an exact science.

Although the gallery also presents well-known artists, it has forged a reputation for its specialization in art brut. What are some of your guiding principles as an art dealer? How is this reflected in the art and the artists you represent?

Let’s be precise: I show art brut, not art brut. You are not confusing the sun with the solar system. The sun is raw art: the art of otherness, of individual mythologies outside the usual circuits of art. Art brut is the solar system, which contains the sun, but covers many other categories, popular art, intuitive art, visionary art, self-taught, etc.

A lot has changed in the gallery world in recent years. Do you have any forecasts for the future of the art market? Are there any tendencies or inclinations that you find particularly exciting or intriguing?

Art brut is now “on the map”: it is regularly present in the official selection of artists at the Venice Biennale and numerous acquisitions by museums such as the MoMA, the Met, the Center Pompidou, etc. Several major exhibitions are in preparation in institutions, not to mention market phenomena, such as the annual sale at Christie’s New York. More and more collectors and the public are interested in it.

Eric Benetto, Untitled (2021). Courtesy of Christian Berst Art Brut, Paris.

This week, you will present Éric Benetto at Paris+ by Art Basel, and next month Jorge Alberto Cadi at Paris Photo. Can you tell us a bit about each artist? Is there a specific facet of their work that particularly appeals to you?

It should be noted that these are contemporary raw artists, discovered and defended by the gallery for sometimes more than a decade. Benetto is a mystic before being an artist. He works for months on x-rays which he then assembles into a single image, on which he draws dizzying patterns in pen and ink. When lit from behind, they are fascinating works of great spirituality. They have already been presented in major contemporary art collections, but Paris+ by Art Basel is the first time that this very original work will be presented to such an international audience.

As for Jorge Alberto Cadi, I discovered him in Cuba six years ago, and thanks to his first exhibition, our publications, and the many loans we have granted, his work has since entered the Pompidou. A significant part of his work will also be shown at the end of the year in Brussels as part of the second part of Photo Brut, which will be presented at the Botanique and the Centrale d’art contemporain.

Cadi has long worked in the greatest secrecy; he would never have imagined that his work would end up in a gallery, let alone in major museums. His work combines existential concerns with the memory of the disappeared, especially Cuban exiles. His material is made up of old photos and abandoned objects. He assembles, sews, cuts, overloads quotes. He is a cross between the Andy Warhol of assembled photographs and the Christian Boltanski of the “Inventories” series.

He is also a member of the Larivière Foundation which will open its doors in Buenos Aires and will present one of the most important collections of Latin American photographs.

Jorge Alberto Cadi, Untitled (2020).  Courtesy of Christian Berst Art Brut.

Jorge Alberto Cadi, Untitled (2020). Courtesy of Christian Berst Art Brut, Paris.

Among all the exhibitions presented by the gallery, do you have any favourites? Or perhaps on the contrary found the most memorable?

It’s a very difficult question. I am torn between exhibitions of my many discoveries of contemporary raw artists around the world, which is the real DNA of the gallery, but also some exhibitions of the great “classics” of modern raw art that I have been proud of. to reunite. All these elements and the nearly 100 bilingual catalogs published have patiently contributed, over 17 years, to making the gallery both a reference in its field and a place for reflection and exchange. Thus, the Bridge, our second space, offers curators the opportunity to create a dialogue between art brut and other categories of art. It is very enriching.

A new chapter in the history of art is being written, which is very rare. I am very happy to contribute to it.

If you weren’t a gallery owner, what would you be?

Any function in the service of an art as essential as art brut would suit me. Editor, writer, curator, lecturer. I’m already a bit of all that, but I don’t have the time to immerse myself in each of these activities as I would like.

But as Confucius said: “We all have two lives, the second begins when we realize that we only have one.”

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