In 1955, Jean Dubuffet gave a Melanesian statue to Jean Paulhan. The recipient remarked that the eyes and brow on its back were curiously less ferocious than those on the front, as though there were nothing odd about having eyes in the back of your head1. He added that they may well be on the back, but on the contrary this did not prevent them from being even more attentive. A few months later, he wrote again to Dubuffet about his statute, wondering whether he had noticed anything particular about it. He expressed his remorse: “As I rather feared for myself because of its gaze, or rather its gazes (it has two faces) I quite precisely directed them (both of them, with the help of a mirror) towards someone who had just behaved very badly towards me: a few days later, this person fell ill, he has just died.”2. Displayed on his mantelpiece, the statue seemed to have recovered its primitive function, whereas a museum, with its sophisticated forms of presentation, would one way or another have managed to neutralize the black magic that such objects harbour.

Jean Dubuffet ; Jean Paulhan Although Paulhan found its powers highly dangerous, his curiosity outweighed his worries, and his remorse; he at once decided to repeat the experience at the first opportunity. So, as well as the mirror placed behind his statue, he added another one on the facing wall, so as to multiply its eyes until he obtained seven or eight pairs of them, which could cover with their spell the entirety of his living-room. In reply, Dubuffet reassured him that he had of course taken the precaution of having the doll defused of its power by a specialist, before giving it to him, but, in the meantime, it had doubtlessly “soured” once again3.

Damien Guggenheim • Translated by Ian Monk

1 Letter of Thursday 1st September 1955 in. Dubuffet / Paulhan, Correspondance, 1944 — 1968, p. 688, les Cahiers de la NRF, Paris, Gallimard, 2003 (our translations).
2 Letter of Thursday 5th April 1956, op.cit., p. 715.
3 Letter of Sunday 8th April 1956, op.cit., p. 716.