Design without limits: Art Brut becomes substance

A chair, a totem, a table and an end table. The creative process of four unique pieces includes the children of a primary school. 

This article was originally published on Domus 1075, January 2023.

“Art does not lie in the bed we made for it; it would sooner run away than say its own name: what it likes is to be incognito.” These are the words of Jean Dubuffet in the late 1940s. Father of the Art Brut movement, this French master was fascinated with art made outside academic traditions by non professionals, such as children and marginalised communities, including prisoners and psychiatric patients. 

Over half a century later, Ygaël Attali – who in 2015 opened Galerie Philia, a French contemporary design and modern art gallery – is on the trail of Dubuffet for the first edition of a non profit event whose goal is to use design as a tool to inspire kids and teens around the world, leading them to the reality of design and inviting them to reflect on the differences (and similarities) between design and sculpture.

For five months, “Design Brut | Philia & Kids” engaged primary school students from Breil-sur-Roya, in the Provence Alpes-Côte d’Azur region, who put forms and ideas onto paper for a series of sculptural furnishings. 


These were then built by designers Antoine Behaghel and Alexis Foiny, from BehaghelFoiny Studio, and a local cabinetmaker who sculpted them in local olive wood. Documented in a film, the project was first presented in an exhibition at the Notre-Dame-des-Monts chapel, and then at Galerie Philia in Paris last December. Attali explains: “The documentary questions today’s definition of furniture design.

The meaning gradually emerges from the kids’ drawings and their physical incarnation. If Art Brut is defined by its unadulterated approach and its absence of creative limits, it seems that functionality – the necessary notion of proportion and balance – constitutes an essential component of sculptural design.” Four one-off pieces originating from the workshop – a chair, a totem, a table and an end table – have been put on sale on the gallery’s website to fund the second edition of “Design Brut | Philia & Kids”, which will take place in 2023 in the Dominican Republic.

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