Vue de l'exposition "Charles Ratton, L'invention des Arts « primitifs »"
25 Jun 2013 22 Sep 2013

Charles Ratton

L’invention des Arts "Primitifs"

This exhibition gives an opportunity to highlight the insight of Charles Ratton, an expert, dealer and collector who changed the history of the way “primitive” art was received, by promoting objects which moved away from the taste for “negro” art that had prevailed up to that time.

About the exhibition

His close involvement in the museum world and his scientific curiosity, shown in the richness of his archives, helped his expertise to flourish. His activities as an expert and the exhibitions he organised, contributed to the shift in status of works from Africa, America and Oceania: from anthropological study objects to works of art in the 1930s, then masterpieces in the 1960s, in France but also in the United States. The portrayal of his links with the artists (the Surrealists, Dubuffet) and photography (“documentary” and artistic photography: Man Ray) helps to highlight this shift towards art and history.

  • curator

    • Philippe Dagen, art historian and Professor of the history of contemporary art at the University of Paris 1 - Panthéon Sorbonne

    Scientific advisor

    • Maureen Murphy, senior lecturer at the University of Paris 1 - Panthéon Sorbonne
  • Place:   Mezzanine est
  • TimeSlots:  
    From Tuesday 25 June 2013 at Sunday 22 September 2013
  • Closed on monday
    Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday:  10:30 am-07:00 pm
    Thursday:  10:30 am-10:00 pm
  • Public:   All publics
  • Categorie : Exhibitions
Vue de l'exposition "Charles Ratton, L'invention des Arts « primitifs »"
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Charles Ratton, l'invention des Arts "Primitifs" - Bande-annonce de l'exposition
Bande-annonce de l'exposition "Charles Ratton, l'invention des Arts "Primitifs"" présentée au musée du quai Branly du mardi 25 juin au dimanche 22 septembre 2013. Pour en savoir plus, rendez-vous sur :
2:12 min

Exhibition overview

The exhibition presents more than 200 works (sculptures, three-dimensional objects and documents such as invitation cards, posters and catalogues).

the universe of Charles Ratton – between curiosity and scholarship

The exhibition opens with the reconstruction of Charles Ratton's office. Created as a cabinet of curiosities, this first space presents the works of art that surrounded Charles Ratton on a daily basis in his office. This section also collects his notes and sketches that indicate his extremely accurate working method. Objects with a variety of provenances both geographical  (the Far East, Africa, Oceania etc.) and temporal (Antiquity, Middle Ages) emphasise the diversity of his purchases and of his links with the Surrealists, including Tristan Tzara, Roland Tual and Paul Éluard.

The surrealist dealer and his work in the United States

In the 1920s, Charles Ratton became established as the learned connoisseur of disregarded and poorly understood cultures by adopting the role of a scholarly art dealer. He developed a network of purchasers and lenders in which wealthy amateurs rubbed shoulders with impoverished avant-garde artists and Surrealist poets.

Very quickly, Charles Ratton understood that it was not enough to be the first in Paris, but that it was necessary to be international and he set out to establish himself in the United States. Finally, he employed all types of modern communication: press, photography and film. In this section, the visitor discovers Charles Ratton through the exhibitions and sales with which he was associated both in France and in the United States.

Charles Tatton and Art Brut

From their encounter in 1944 until the late 1950s, Ratton and Jean Dubuffet met and corresponded often. Ratton presented Dubuffet to Pierre Matisse, who introduced him to the United States. He also acquainted him with African sculpture and showed him works created by the insane. His role was decisive in the invention of the concept of "Art Brut" (outsider art) and the creation of the Compagnie de l'Art Brut which he co-founded in 1948 with André Breton and Henri-Pierre Roché. He encouraged Georges Henri Rivière and one of his great collectors, Baron Eduard von der Heydt, to join. Part of the correspondence between Charles Ratton and Jean Dubuffet is displayed in this section.

After the war

Charles Ratton remained in Paris during the Occupation, and following the end of the war he continued to pursue his activity as an international art dealer while re-establishing contact with the Surrealists on their return from exile in America. There, he appeared as the supreme authority on African and Oceanian art and his gallery, rue de Marignan, was visited by all of the important figures in the world of amateurs and scholars. Despite his age and the appearance of a new generation of travelling dealers, he maintained his foremost postion amongst art dealers until the 1970s, contributing to the triumph and regularly promoting the value of objects that are increasingly considered as world heritage masterpieces.

A mystery remains

In the 1980s Charles Ratton attempted to donate the cream of his collection to the musée du Louvre. However, the institution did not to open its doors to non-Western art until 20 years later, after having refused the art dealer's proposed donations on several occasions.

Whilst Charles Ratton contributed to make known some aspects of non-Western artistic creation and in particular the court arts, the nature of the relationships which he had with these works remains a mystery. Keen to preserve the memory of each work that passed through his hands, but also to control its image, he photographed every object. However, there is one work that he never sold and which may offer some clues as to the relationship between the collector and art: this work represents a seated, immobile man, whose head is swallowed by the jaws of a horned snake.

A rare work, undoubtedly produced for the European market, and which embodies the discretion of a man who never wanted  to reveal anything of his life or work. Strange and contradictory, an expression of predation and devoration, it can be interpreted as a deformed reflection of the relationship between Charles Ratton, art and the market: passionate, sometimes blinding but always controlled and emotionally charged.