Jean Dubuffet. Closerie Falbala, 1976. Fondation Dubuffet © 2023 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris.
Jean Dubuffet. Overhead view of Closerie Falbala, 1976. Fondation Dubuffet © 2023 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris.
Jean Dubuffet. Interior view of Closerie Falbala, 1976. Fondation Dubuffet © 2023 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris.

Closerie Falbala

by Grace Banks

At around 6 a.m., following an abrupt sunrise framed by a dense forest of pine trees, they come into view: jagged white walls, like a row of bad teeth, laced with thick, black, curving, erratic lines that loop the walls together into one giant object. From a distance the scene is chaotic and odd. But up close the story is entirely different, the assemblage like a fabric, tightly woven together, precise and designed with purpose. This was always Jean Dubuffet’s intention for Closerie Falbala, the sprawling artwork in Périgny-sur-Yerres in the Nouvelle-Aquitaine countryside that serves as the artist’s jutting and abstract memo to art as a way of living.

A key figure in postwar modern art who sought to capture the poetry of the everyday, Dubuffet considered himself “anti-taste” and detested blue-chip art values, often choosing to exhibit in far-flung art institutions instead of the usual art capitals. But when I visited Closerie Falbala in 2020 and stood in front of his monumental sculpture just after sunrise, I found myself thinking that Closerie Falbala is possibly the most elegant and generous tribute to anti-taste I have ever seen. Dubuffet created an immersive world and a place of worship, brought together with his signature L'Hourloupe painterly strokes in the French flag colors of blue, white, and red. The monumental piece offers an alternative to the conservative museum experience, one that still draws visitors from across the world. Dubuffet’s commitment to “low taste” and art brut is rendered through his cartoon-like scrawls inspired by the unpredictable shifts of the subconscious. Nestled in the middle of the Périgny forest, Closerie Fabala was one of the art world’s first-ever mood shifts and provided a moment for Dubuffet to assert how to experience art outside of an air-conditioned museum. 

The sculpture was designed to energize, and stepping inside the squiggly painted resin walls feels like standing inside an ornament—a tender space that immediately makes you straighten your back. Begun in 1971, it took Dubuffet two years to build his warren of outdoor antechambers leading to the chapel-like Cabinet logologique, a place of respite painted from floor to ceiling in Dubuffet’s meticulous L’Hourloupe motif. The walls of the space curve and swoop, requiring imagination from visitors as they navigate around, guests who are continuously kept guessing and surrounded by the late artist’s swirling tessellations. 

One of his last projects—and the one he cited as his best—Dubuffet’s seminal masterpiece is for and about people. With Closerie Falbala, Dubuffet wanted the viewer to see art in nature, to perceive the world beyond wealthy cities as places where art should flourish, not be sidelined. Seventy years old at the time he created Closerie Falbala, Dubuffet had acquired a significant international following and understood the impact of his art. He knew his audience would make the pilgrimage to stand in the sprawling warren of roofless resin rooms and minutely study his hand-painted lines, would find their mood shift as they entered his self-designed chapel logologique and emerged to see the tiny door give way to a panoramic view of Périgny’s lush forests. Set under the quiet skies of the French countryside, Cabinet logologique’s softly curving rectangles traced in red and blue, like an organism multiplying upon itself, play with the viewer’s notion of perspective. I can’t imagine that detail being quite as vibrant and alive anywhere else. 

There’s a photograph of Dubuffet taken just after he’d finished his Périgny masterpiece, where he stands smiling inside Closerie Falbala wearing a contrasting abstract print top. It’s the smile of an artist who has just created a totem to the era and a much-needed change of pace in contemporary art. 

Grace Banks is a London-based journalist and editor. She is the author of Play With Me: Dolls - Women - Art.