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04 Dec 2023

Major Exhibition at the American Folk Art Museum Will Explore the Legacy of Francesc Tosquelles

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(New York, New York) Francesc Tosquelles: Avant-Garde Psychiatry and the Birth of Art Brut will be on view at the American Folk Art Museum (AFAM) from April 12 through August 18, 2024. AFAM is the exclusive United States venue for this exhibition, originally organized by the Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona (CCCB).

Exploring the crossroads of art and psychiatry, this exhibition delves into the legacy of Catalan psychiatrist Francesc Tosquelles (Reus, 1912–Granges-sur-Lot, 1994). Tosquelles pioneered revolutionary psychiatric practices that came to be known as “institutional psychotherapy,” designed to integrate patients into the communal life of Saint-Alban Hospital’s “asylum-village,” which was located in Saint-Alban-sur-Limagnole, France.

Tosquelles’ non-hierarchical approach fostered collaboration between patients, doctors, and staff, facilitating new social connections through workshops, occupational activities, self-managed meetings, and participation in maintaining the hospital. During the German occupation of France, Saint-Alban Hospital served as a refuge for political dissidents and intellectuals associated with the artistic avant-garde, exposing them to the remarkable artistic output of patients. This exposure led French artist Jean Dubuffet to coin the term “art brut” in 1945 and begin his renowned collection.

The exhibition will chronicle this narrative through the art created at Saint-Alban by individuals such as Auguste Forestier, Marguerite Sirvins, Benjamin Arneval, and Aimable Jayet, who embedded Dubuffet’s art brut conceptualization in the immediate postwar period. Rare documentary films, photographs depicting life at the hospital, and works by European artists linked to this era, including Antonin Artaud, Eugene Bedeaux, Dubuffet, Paul Éluard, Joaquim Vicens Gironella, Pierre Matarasso, Henri Michaux, and Gérard Vulliamy, will also be featured.

A distinctive section in AFAM’s presentation will draw parallels to Tosquelles’ initiatives in the United States, examining mental health history through the works of American artists, including James Edward Deeds, Jr., Anthony Dominguez, Judith Scott, Henry Fajen, Masaaki Iswasmoto, ‘Myrllen’, Gabriel Mitchell, Richard Nisbett, Martín Ramírez, Joseph Roth, and Melvin Way—individuals once labeled with mental illnesses, who created art in psychiatric hospitals or workshops.

“We are honored to work with our esteemed colleagues in Europe to investigate the innovative and impactful legacy of Tosquelles, from an artistic perspective,” said Valérie Rousseau, AFAM’s Curatorial Chair for Exhibitions and Senior Curator of Self-Taught Art and Art Brut. “This timely project addresses pressing questions regarding the fabric of mental health systems, as well as shifts in the values permeating the art establishment.” The exhibition will attest to the relevance of Tosquelles’ lifelong aspiration toward ‘curing the institutions,’ with regards to the economic and mental health crises facing the US today.”

Francesc Tosquelles: Avant-Garde Psychiatry and the Birth of Art Brut will showcase the emergence of Europe’s 20th-century intellectual landscape through encounters at the Saint-Alban Hospital, examining Tosquelles’ close relationships with Artaud, Dubuffet, Paul Éluard, Frantz Fanon, and Jean Oury, placing him among the most influential figures of the late 20th century in philosophy, politics, art, and psychiatry.

“Introducing the work of Tosquelles to audiences in New York is an undertaking that we take seriously,” said Jason T. Busch, the Museum’s Becky and Bob Alexander Director & CEO. “On their own, the exhibition and its publication represent groundbreaking achievements. Combined with other AFAM projects, including the 2022 acquisition of the archives of the Healing Arts Initiative and a recent grant awarded from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) for a collection-based project on neurodiversity, this exhibition furthers an emerging area of scholarship and research.”

“This exhibition will present for the first time in the United States the legacy of Tosquelles who, in the occupied France of the 1940s, healed his patients by ‘curing’ the psychiatric institution itself,” said Joana Masó, co-curator. “Using culture (amateur cinema, theater, and literature) and politics (self-management, cooperatives, and anti-Stalinist communism), Tosquelles’ project of was shaped by radical politics in Catalonia during the 1930s and his own emancipation practices during the Spanish Civil War, when he resolved to treat the therapeutic community rather than the patients themselves.”

“Tosquelles’ contributions are some of the most remarkable of the French postwar period,” noted Carles Guerra, co-curator. “By bringing together innovations in the field of psychiatry, politics and culture, Tosquelles articulated a therapeutical complex in adverse circumstances and embodied a crossroad at which psychoanalysis and Marxism, the Catalan revolutionary movement, and the decolonial critique launched by Frantz Fanon, as well as the anti-authoritarian politics of the 1930s, came together in a derelict site in South-Central France.”

Francesc Tosquelles: Avant-Garde Psychiatry and the Birth of Art Brut is supported in part by the Art Dealers Association of America Foundation, Nina Beaty, the David Davies and Jack Weeden Fund for Exhibitions, the Institut Ramon Llull, 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 Governor Kathy Hochul and the New York State Legislature, Susan Weiler, the Anthony Petullo Foundation, and the Dorothea & Leo Rabkin Foundation.

Curatorial Credits

The exhibition was previously on view in Spain and France at the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía in Madrid (2022–2023), Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona (2022), and Les Abattoirs, Musée–Frac Occitanie Toulouse (2021–2022).

The AFAM version of the show is co-curated by Valérie Rousseau, PhD, Curatorial Chair for Exhibitions and Senior Curator of Self-Taught Art and Art Brut (AFAM); Joana Masó, PhD, Researcher at UNESCO chair for Women–Development and Cultures and at ADHUC–Research Centre for Theory–Gender and Sexuality, and Senior lecturer at Barcelona University; Carles Guerra, PhD, Inaugural Visiting Professor in Catalan Studies, New York University; curator and researcher, former Chief Curator at the Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona (MACBA) and former Executive Director of the Fundació Antoni Tàpies; and Edward Dioguardi, AFAM’s Anthony Petullo Foundation Curatorial Fellow, PhD Candidate in Comparative Literature, New York University.

Publication

A book titled Francesc Tosquelles: Avant-Garde Psychiatry, Radical Politics, and Art published by the American Folk Art Museum will coincide with the exhibition. Gathering critical essays by various authors, the publication expands upon the exhibition’s themes. As the first English-language scholarly publication focusing on Francesc Tosquelles, the catalog reunites unprecedented research and reflects on questions raised by Tosquelles’s efforts to advocate for people living with mental health conditions, better the lives of patients in psychiatric institutions, and denounce the pathologies of European Fascism. Contributors include the exhibition’s curators—Valérie Rousseau, Joana Masó, Carles Guerra, Edward Dioguardi—as well as Mireille Berton, Christophe Boulanger, Kaira M. Cabañas, Éric Fassin, Savine Faupin, Jean Khalfa, Raphaël Koenig, Sarah Lombardi, Josée Manenti, Julien Michel, W.J.T. Mitchell, Paul B. Preciado, Alejandra Riera, Camille Robcis, Mireia Sallarès, Martin Summers, Annabelle Ténèze, and Francesc Tosquelles.

Exhibition Lenders

Lenders to Francesc Tosquelles: Avant-Garde Psychiatry and the Birth of Art Brut include the Collection de l’Art Brut in Lausanne, Les Abattoirs, Musée–Frac Occitanie Toulouse, Musée national d’Art moderne–Centre Pompidou in Paris, Institut Jean Vigo in Perpignan, LaM–Lille Métropole Musée d’art moderne, d’art contemporain et d’art brut in Villeneuve d’Ascq, Musée Benjamin-Pailhas Fondation Bon Sauveur d’Alby in Albi, Musée Cantini in Marseille, New York State Museum in Albany, American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore, The Library Company of Philadelphia, Broome County Historical Society in Binghamton, Romulus Historical Society in Stuyvesant, Tennessee State Museum in Nashville, Galerie Christian Berst in Paris, Éditions Montparnasse in Paris, Les Films d’Ici Productions and Cyrill Renaud. As well as these private collections: Collection Famille Ou Rabah–Tosquelles, Gabrielle Hallez, Audrey B. Heckler, Daniel Klein, Hubert Neumann, Piero Matarasso et Francine Vormese, François Pain, Claire Sarti, Michel Tosquelles, and Luc Volatier.

About the American Folk Art Museum

Founded in 1961, the American Folk Art Museum has engaged people of all backgrounds through its collections, exhibitions, publications, and programs as the leading forum shaping the understanding and appreciation of folk and self-taught art across time and place.

The Museum is located at 2 Lincoln Square (Columbus Avenue at W. 66th Street), New York, New York, 10065.

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