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Museum stories: Outsider art in Montpellier

Fernand Michel [1913-1999] was a bookbinder and art collector who was a pioneer of outsider art with his “zingueries”.

To preserve his work and his art collection, his two sons, Denys and Patrick MICHEL, set up the ADABS (Association Développement de l’Art Brut et Singulier). The association built an 800 m2 museum as an extension to the renovated family home. Its regular purchases of works and donations from artists and collectors have enabled it to build up a unique collection.

Since 2016, the museum has offered the public a permanent collection of over 2,000 works, as well as temporary exhibitions. Patrick MICHEL, the museum’s director, opened the doors to us for a guided tour.

Artistic Family history around the artworks of Fernand Michel

From 1956, Fernand Michel captured rust and time printed on zinc to create landscapes. He then expanded his creations with original assemblages. As an art bookbinder, does Fernand Michel’s self-taught artistic creation fits into Dubuffet’s definition of “Art Brut”?

In any case, Alphonse Chave exhibited his work in the 1960s in his gallery in Vence. This revelation led him to the Atelier Jacob in Paris, then to La Fabuloserie and the Musée de la Création Franche in Bègles.

Outsider, visionary, alternative, folk art, neuve invention...

Creative richness is the keyword at the Montpellier museum. The variety of adjectives is worth : Art Brut, Outsider Art, Visionary Art, Alternative Art, Folk Art…

The point is not to label in order to confine, but to list in order to bring together a coherent group of artists.

This rich art museum in the heart of Montpellier showcases a community, a wide diversity of creatures without limiting itself to a particular form or style.

Stories of icons, outsider art living history

A visit to the museum reveals the many, often tragic, stories of self-taught artists. The most comforting thing is to feel in the works on show the energy and power of life that human hands and minds are able to create.

The Montpellier museum presents a very fine collection of the “historical icons” of Art Brut. But it does not rest on nostalgia. Its collection is growing, and every year several exhibitions of contemporary artists enrich its outlook.

The museum really supports living artists by dedicating a “deposit-sales” area to them: the museum takes no commission on the works it sells, and everything goes straight into the artists’ pockets.

You’ll need at least two hours to fully visit the museum, so it’s best to come back regularly!

An Eden for outsider creatures

The comments of Swiss collector Peter Bolliger fit in perfectly with the world of Montpellier’s outisider art museum

In my opinion, what makes art brut and outsider art so interesting is its diversity. It is not limited by any particular art form or style and can be compared to a huge aquarium in which an almost unmanageable variety of different creatures live side by side and form a very special and unique community.


Peter Bolliger from The alternativ museum