American Folk Art Museum Logo

Francesc Tosquelles: Avant-Garde Psychiatry and the Birth of Art Brut

April 12, 2024–August 18, 2024
Exhibition

This exhibition—situated at the intersection of art and psychiatry—explores for the first time in the United States the legacy of Catalan psychiatrist Francesc Tosquelles (Reus, Spain, 1912–Granges-sur-Lot, France, 1994).

After fleeing the Nationalist government of Franco amidst the Spanish Civil War, Tosquelles arrived in 1940 at the Saint-Alban psychiatric hospital in Southern France, where he devised a series of revolutionary psychiatric practices that came to be called “institutional psychotherapy,” predicated on non-hierarchical relations between patients, doctors, manual laborers on site, neighboring communities, and outsiders.

During the German occupation of France, this “asylum-village” also became a refuge for political dissidents and intellectuals associated with the artistic avant-garde, whom were exposed to the prodigious artistic output of its patients—among them Auguste Forestier, Marguerite Sirvins, and Aimable Jayet. It was in response to these very artworks that French artist Jean Dubuffet would come to coin the notion of “art brut” in 1945, beginning his now-celebrated collection.

The exhibition and accompanying book will include artworks by European artists associated with Tosquelles and Dubuffet’s concurrent aspirations to “cure” mental health and art institutions alike, as well as films and archival documents excavating Saint-Alban’s outsized but subterranean influence on French intellectual life in the 20th century, featuring Antonin Artaud, Paul Éluard, Frantz Fanon, and Jean Oury.

In light of this rich legacy, Francesc Tosquelles: Avant-Garde Psychiatry and the Birth of Art Brut will examine mental health history in the United States through the works of American artists—among them Martín Ramírez, Judith Scott, Masaaki Iswasmoto, Melvin Way, and Gabriel Mitchell.

The final stop in a four-venue collaboration, this exhibition was presented in 2021–2023 at the Abattoirs, Musée–Frac Occitanie Toulouse, Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona (CCCB), and Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía in Madrid. At the American Folk Art Museum (AFAM), it is curated by Joana Masó, Carles Guerra, Valérie Rousseau, and Edward Dioguardi. Co-organized by CCCB and the Abattoirs, this exhibition developed from a research project entitled “Llegat oblidat de Francesc Tosquelles” (“Francesc Tosquelles’ Forgotten Legacy”), co-produced by the University of Barcelona, Mir-Puig Private Foundation (Barcelona), and Antoni Tàpies Foundation (Barcelona).

Artworks

(L) Romain Vigouroux, François Tosquelles brandissant un bateau d’Auguste Forestier, sur le toit du poulailler. Vue sur la plaine au-delà du mur de l’hôpital. 1947. Photograph, 6 7/8 x 5 in. Collection Famille Ou-Rabah – Tosquelles. (R) Unidentified artist, Portrait de François Tosquelles peint par un prisonnier de Septfonds, 1939. Aquarelle on canvas. Collection Famille Ou-Rabah – Tosquelles.

Marguerite Sirvins (1890–1957, France), Untitled, 1941. Embroidered silk threads on fabric, 8 5/8 x 10 in. Collection Family Ou-Rabah Tosquelles. Photographic reproduction: © Roberto Ruiz.

Credits

Lead support for this exhibition is provided by the Institut Ramon Llull, Nina Beaty, Susan Weiler, and the Anthony Petullo Foundation. Additional support is provided by the Art Dealers Association of America Foundation, the Dorothea and Leo Rabkin Foundation, the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council, the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of the Office of the Governor and the New York State Legislature, and the David Davies and Jack Weeden Fund for Exhibitions.