Monument with Standing Beast, 1984
In front of the James R. Thompson Center
100 West Randolph Street
The City of Chicago's Department Cultural Affairs and Special Events Public Art Program states that French painter and sculptor Jean Dubuffet (1901-1985) felt a special affection for Chicago, home to one of his three monumental sculpture commissions in the United States. The relationship began in 1951 with an exhibition at the Arts Club. Dubuffet delivered a lecture titled "Anti-cultural Positions." Associated with the Art Brut movement, which valued and imitated visual works produced by children, untrained artists and the insane, Dubuffet stated, "Personally I believe very much in values of savagery; I mean: instinct, passion, mood, violence, madness."
Based on his painting series Hourloupe and originally designed as a model in 1969, Monument with Standing Beast is a 29 foot high, 10 ton fiberglass piece that represents a standing animal, a tree, a portal and an architectural form. Prominently placed in the plaza of the James R. Thompson Center, designed by Helmut Jahn, it is not just an art piece, but an architectural structure that visitors can experience by walking through and touching.
As one of 19 commissioned artworks funded under the State of Illinois Art-in-Architecture Program and commissioned by the Illinois Capital Development Board, Dubuffet hoped it would resonate with the average person on the street. However, reactions of scorn at the unveiling were reminiscent of reactions to Picasso’s 1967 Untitled work located in nearby Daley Plaza. Locals nicknamed it “Snoopy in a blender.”
Born in the Haute-Normandie region of France to a wine merchant, Dubuffet moved to Paris in 1918 to study at the Académie Julian. He dropped out after six months to study independently. By 1924, he abandoned art to work for his father’s business, returning briefly in the 1930s only to stop again and then finally devote himself to art in 1942. He had his first solo in 1944, just after the liberation of Paris.
Dubuffet utilized different materials and surfaces to depict commonplace subjects, such as people riding the Paris subway and a girl milking a cow. Also strongly influenced by graffiti and naive art, he evolved though more than two dozen different phases or styles and wrote extensively about his rejection of aesthetic conventions. Not all of his works were well received; some critics said they looked like the work of a graffitist, an untaught child or a mental patient. Later, other critics would consider him a predecessor to trends in Pop Art and Neo-Dada.
Artist Claes Oldenburg who crafted Batcolumn once wrote, "Jean Dubuffet influenced me to ask why art is made and what the art process consists of, instead of trying to conform to and extend a tradition." In his 1985 obituary, the Chicago Tribune commented on the artist’s impact stating, “If Chicago art of the '50s and '60s can be said to have a spiritual father, it was Mr. Dubuffet.”