Stephen Bayley is having none of Nick Foulkes’s rehabilitation of Bernard Buffet, “Let’s be frank, Buffet was kitsch. And kitsch means fake.”
That doesn’t mean the book isn’t worthwhile reading. Here, Bayley make the case for Buffet as a case study in the intersection of artists and popular culture (sound familiar?):
But the Buffet story is fascinating. At a commercial level, his success was enormous. And his pictures satisfied a certain need: a Buffet image of, say, a depressed pêcheur recalls a moment in time as precisely as a tangerine-coloured Arne Jacobsen chair or a Renault Floride. What we have in The Invention of the Modern Mega-Artist is a case-study of the conflict between high and low culture, the uneasy bargain between popular acceptance and critical acclaim. Buffet never pleased serious critics, but today we are more inclusive. Categories and frontiers of art history are being reconsidered, so Buffet deserves reappraisal. But it’s a tough job: everyone agrees that he was a faiseur (a poser) who caricatured the idea of a modern painter on a stage managed by the French media.
If the conventional view of Buffet was that his pictures of weeping clowns are ham-fisted, coarse and sentimental, executed with modest skill, the very definition of low-brow, a shallow art requiring no interpretation or effort by the viewer, then it is up to his new champion to make an alternative case. That’s the dynamic of this big, interesting book. Foulkes thinks it was merely snobbery that denied Buffet esteem but, in fact, it was taste. There really is such a thing, and it is always worth cultivating. Just because a majority of critics and experts agree does not mean they are wrong.
Bernard Buffet: painter and poser (The Spectator)