Art from Within: Art Brut in Austria and Hungary

- 18 September 2008 - 9 November 2008


Selection from Austrian Workshops and the Collections of the Budapest Museum of Psychiatry and the Hungarian National Gallery
The Joint Exhibition of Hungarian National Gallery and the Austrian Cultural Forum

The exhibition is arranged around three units, the material of three collections. A hundred artworks made with various techniques came from different Austrian art-therapy and psycho-social workshops. This contemporary Austrian material is eked out by fifty drawings from the Budapest Museum of Psychiatry and the series of drawings Count Ernő Teleki produced between 1954 and 1970, which are now held in the Archive of the Hungarian National Gallery.

Expressing the decadent sense of life of the period, many artists rejected traditional pictorial topoi at the beginning of the 1900s. The age of modernism, the experience of anxiety and loneliness called for new visual devices and adequate forms of expression. Avant-garde artists in particular were drawn to the motif repository of the art of the primitives and of folklore, the bewitching honesty of children’s drawings and the bizarre visions of the insane, the depth of their archaically rooted world. Their innovative aspirations ran parallel to the scholarly researches in mental disease of the period. It was in this era that psychiatry began intensive investigations in the psychology of archaic peoples, children, the regularities of dreams, and the pictorial manifestations of the mentally ill. Underlining the similarity of the creative processes involved, Dadaist, expressionist and surrealist artists not only drew inspiration from such artworks theretofore interesting only for experts, but also presented them at their own exhibitions. One of the most important sources of inspiration for avant-garde artists – including Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Oskar Schlemmer, Alfréd Kubin, André Breton, Paul Klee, Max Ernst, and Pablo Picasso – was the collection of the Heidelberg Clinic.

In the 1940s, the French artist Jean Dubuffet collected countless artworks by social misfits, psychotics, tramps and criminals. He coined the term Art Brut (‘raw’, ‘rough’, ‘unpolished’ or ‘outsider art’) for these unusual, variegated products of creativity in a marginalized social context. In 1948, Dubuffet established the Art Brut Society, whose members included the surrealist writer André Breton, the painter Michel Tapié, the Swiss psychiatrist Max Müller and the future French Minister of Culture and art writer André Malraux. By the 1960s, Dubuffet’s collection numbered over 5000 pieces. As a donation by the artist, it found its way to Lausanne to form the basis of a museum and research centre called Collection de l’Art Brut in 1976. In our day, artworks broadly conceived as Art Brut are given more and more space among the manifestations of contemporary art, several workshops, galleries, collections and art fairs justifying their existence. Creators who have not had a traditional academic training bring forth subjective images from the depth of their inner world, the raw spontaneity of which is coupled with a mesmerizing honesty. They reveal a tendency towards total independence from cultural traditions in these creators, and one can marvel at the unfettered freedom with which they entirely neglect the various artistic tendencies and trends.

From the middle of the 19th century, significant collections came into being in hospitals as a result of the study of the pictorial self-expression of the mentally diseased. Soon after the collections of Cesare Lombroso in Turin, Marcel Réja in Paris, the Bethlem Royal Hospital in London and Hans Prinzhorn in Heidelberg, the Hungarian Árpád Selig established a museum of the kind at the Lipótmező Institution in Budapest in the 1910s. Originally, these collections came into being as a result of healing and scientific research activities, and primarily served therapeutic and diagnostic purposes; however, they also facilitated the accumulation of a large quantity of Art Brut material. Due to its psychopathological and historical significance, the Budapest Museum of Psychiatry at Lipótmező stands out among other similar institutions – the former curator of which, Edit Plesznivy, arranged the current exhibition. The show has a distressing poignancy to it in that the home of the collection, the National Institute of Psychiatry and Neurology, was closed down at the end of 2007. The fate of the protected, museum-worthy collection is still uncertain.

In a marginalized life situation, the Hungarian aristocrat Count Ernő Teleki, who was deported from his Kolozsvár (Cluj, Romania) home to the Danube Delta for his pedigree and political affiliation, experienced the kind of exclusion and threat the mentally diseased do. Count Teleki opted for art making and drawing as a strategy of survival. His spontaneous outbursts of creativity were similar to the creative fever psychotics often have. In the course of thirty years, he produced over a hundred drawings, which he bound in albums to make a sort of visual diary. Apart from their uniqueness, his fantastic beings, strange monster figures and historical visions show an interesting analogy with Art Brut works. Their display at this exhibition is also justified by the fact that Dubuffet included in his famous collection works by social outcasts, people living on the peripheries of society. The diaries of Ernő Teleki were donated to the Archive of the Hungarian National Gallery by the Teleki family in the 1990.

In Austria, 2006 was the Sigmund Freud year, and, in the framework of a related project, the curator of the Austrian material, the art writer Angelica Bäumer, studied and collected the works mentally diseased persons produced in Austrian workshops. Her selection covered, among others, one of the most important Art Brut centres in Europe, the Gugging Haus der Künstler, as well as the workshops of Hartheim, Salzburg, Innsbruck, Gallneukirchner, Graz, Gmunden, Lienz, Lustenau, Retz, and Linz. The most representative pieces in this massive selection were put on show in the Museum Quarter of Vienna in the summer of 2007 (Kunst von Innen). Subsequently, the show began its world tour, and has now come to Hungary as one of its first destinations. Between 1970 and 1975, the National Gallery housed the Naive Collection, which is now held in Kecskemét, thus the Art from Within exhibition organically fits in to the traditions of the institution, which from time to time provides room to the creative phenomena and creators handicapped due to their minority existence that seek their ways and means outside the bounds of professional art.

Curators: Prof. Angelica Baumer (Austria) és Plesznivy Edit (HNG).

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