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The Collection de l'Art Brut opens first European solo show devoted to Morton Bartlett
Morton Bartlett, Untitled, btw. 1936 and 1965. Silver print, 12 x 9,7 cm. Photo : Caroline Smyrliadis Collection de l’Art Brut, Lausanne.

LAUSANNE.- The Collection de l’Art Brut proudly presents, jointly with the Hamburger Bahnhof – Museum für Gegenwart (Contemporary Art Museum), Berlin, a first European solo show devoted to the American Art Brut creator Morton Bartlett (1909-1992). Initially featured in Berlin, the show now travels to Lausanne.

In 1996, the New York gallery owner Marion Harris donated forty-two Morton Bartlett works to the Collection de l’Art Brut. This significant body of lead pencil drawings also includes various plaster sculptures depicting children–such as two little girls—as well as studies of ears and feet, a dental mold, faces bearing a variety of expressions, painstakingly detailed sets of clothing and black-andwhite photographs printed from the original negatives. Morton Bartlett produced all of these pieces over a period of twenty-seven years, from 1936 to 1963. In fact, Bartlett lent substance to a reconstituted family rooted in childhood. His entire oeuvre, which was discovered in his home after his death at eighty-three, was conceived for personal ends, so that none of it ever went on public display during his lifetime. The Collection de l'Art Brut holds the major share of his production, but the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Museum of Modern Art in San Francisco both possess a number of his photographs.

Morton Bartlett created his works in all secrecy, outside the bounds of his professional life. An orphan who was adopted at the age of eight, and later a childless bachelor, he became a freelance commercial photographer in Boston. He was to relinquish that profession for health reasons, going on to work at various jobs (manager of a gas station, furniture sales representative...) and, finally, to set up a graphic design agency: Morton Bartlett and Associates. At the age of twenty-seven, and in parallel with his jobs, he began creating about fifteen plaster dolls, together with their clothes and accessories. He could spend up to fifty hours bringing a doll's facial expression alive, and up to a year modeling, casting and painting an entire doll. Since the dolls had detachable limbs, Bartlett could constitute myriad figures using heads, arms and legs that he fashioned and then assembled onto a trunk. Moreover, having created countless accessories (hats, dresses, handbags), he could also transform any doll as he wished. Once he had dressed and adorned them according to his fancy, he would shoot photos of them with the benefit of special lighting and elaborate staging. The prints present the dolls as lifelike creatures, endowed with a troubling realism that has captured the interest of such contemporary artists as Cindy Sherman, and the Jake and Dinos Chapman pair. Today, some fifty years later, the prints retain all their fascinating vitality.

Morton Bartlett (Chicago, 1909 – Boston, 1992), orphaned at the age of eight, was adopted by a wealthy couple from Massachusetts. After graduating from Philipps Exeter Academy in Boston, he began studying at Harvard University (1929-1930), but left to earn a living as a freelance photographer. Unfortunately the image-development products affected his health, forcing him to give up that profession. He went on to work at several jobs (manager of a gas station, furniture sales representative), and enlisted in the American army during World War II. After the war, he founded "Morton Bartlett and Associates," a graphic design and printing agency. Although remaining a bachelor, he did integrate socially.

In 1936, and in parallel with his professional activities, Morton Bartlett began fashioning dolls. An article about his creations appeared in Yankee Magazine in 1962, thanks to his neighbor Kahlil Gibran (1922-2008)—a nephew of the author of The Prophet. Having befriended Bartlett, Gibran sought recognition for his friend's creations. In 1965, the appearance of this single article published during his lifetime, kindling as it did the interest of other reporters, drove Bartlett to dismember his sculptures, wrap them in newspaper and pack them into custom-made boxes. He stored these boxes, containing fifteen dolls and their accessories, as well as photos and drawings, in a locked closet of his house, where they would only be discovered subsequent to his death.

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