Hannah Rieger

Living in Art Brut

This very special art, which I have been collecting for the past 25 years now, has become the world I live in. That means I am living in around 400 works of Art Brut. The core of my collection, about two thirds of the works, consists of art from Gugging. The rest comprises international pieces of Art Brut. I have a flat in Vienna and a house in the Weinviertel in Lower Austria.

Breaking soul

For me, living “in” Art Brut means much more than merely living “with” Art Brut. I think of Goethe, describing his preoccupation with the Greek poet Pindar in a letter that is now very well-known: he wrote, “I now live in Pindar”.

“Living in Art Brut” means that I orient my own life and work increasingly around this world of art and also confront the clients of my coaching practice with Art Brut. It means I allow it to influence my whole identity, and invest more and more time in the project. Mostly this involves travelling, talking, publishing articles, reading. Art Brut has become a part of my personality. The richness in colour and form of these wonderful works of art brings joy, variety, and continuity into my world again and again, and astonishes me with something new every day.

My art collection serves as a kind of “micro-mirror” that reflects me as a person. When I have the courage to look into this mirror, it shows different dimensions of the reflections of my Art Brut project, and so also of my life. This perspective means that I increasingly experience a sense of “being” rather than “having”, in the way Erich Fromm defined it. I see the concept of collecting as being more a way of investing in a successful life, and less a question of consumption or asset management.

My involvement with Art Brut began 25 years ago and quickly grew in significance for me. Collecting Art Brut, and living within it, has become my great project of passion. Of course, superficially, this involves a certain degree of excess. There is a constant desire for “more and more”. There are always several works from all over the world on my “internal shopping list” which I would love to acquire. Limited financial resources keep the potential for addiction that comes with collecting in check. For me, the important factor is how my collection influences my identity and my personal development.

In keeping with the motto about “how we discover our lives through our passions”, Art Brut has also led me to art-related projects in my professional life. For example, I am a member of the University Council of the “Angewandte”, the University of Applied Arts in Vienna, and for a few years I curated the art collection of a banking group. The connection to contemporary art was always important to me, as my own collection is a project in a special niche of art.

Through my involvement with Art Brut, I am integrating the topic of the “outsider” into my existence – it is a theme that has always been with me, also in the historical sense. Of course, Art Brut is by definition purely about the quality of the art. I prefer not to use the term “outsider art”. Nevertheless, the concept of the outsider cannot be ignored. On the one hand, the life stories of these wonderful artists are increasingly being contextualised in new ways, mainly through international exhibitions. This shows me ever more clearly for every artist the connections between an individual mythology and a breaking soul. On the other hand, in the emotional fractures that are part of my own life story I can now see the deeper reasons why I have embraced Art Brut myself.

Collecting Art Brut presumably has something to do with one’s own self. In my case, it is related to my family’s history in the Holocaust. My great-uncle, my grandfather’s brother, was Heinrich Rieger, a Jewish dentist who created an art collection in interwar Vienna that included works by Egon Schiele. Heinrich Rieger was murdered in Theresienstadt in 1942, and many of the works remain untraceable. His fate has motivated me to document my collection and make it accessible to the public.

There is also a deep impetus stemming from the fact that I belong to the “second generation”. So I think my collection honours not only the fates of the individual Art Brut artists it represents, but also symbolically honours the members of my family who did not survive one of the darkest periods of our history.

My openness to encountering people who exist on the margins of society, and my efforts to create connections between different worlds stem from my sense of otherness; from my experiences of exclusion and emotional fractures. The richness of the Art Brut works has helped me to emancipate myself from the burdens of the past.

Collecting as a project

The status quo in 2017, or, what do 400 works mean? Art from Gugging is represented in my collection by 3 female artists and 29 male, with a total of 250 works. A further 30 works by 6 female and 8 male artists also originate from Austria. The rest – approximately 125 works by 31 male and 16 female artists – come from all over the world, from North and South America, Africa, Asia, and Europe. Furthermore, of the 95 artists represented in my collection, 45 are still alive. I know all the Gugging artists personally of course, and have regular encounters with them during my visits.

Because Gugging was basically only open to men, the women in Gugging are particularly important to me. I have an unusual friendship with Laila Bachtiar, the only woman who works at the studio and is represented by the gallery. I meet with her and her mother several times a year, even outside of Gugging. I am delighted that my collection includes works by Karoline Rosskopf and Barbara Demlczuk, two of the very few female artists from the Leo Navratil era.

It was my mother, a declared feminist, who always particularly insisted that there should be female artists in my collection. At some point I became aware that independent female collectors of Art Brut are rare. Rarer still are female collectors who collect work by female Art Brut artists to a significant extent. As a result, when my collection started to become more international about ten years ago, I introduced a focus on female artists. In the meantime, I have even established a “Women’s Room”: which only shows works by female artists. Laila Bachtiar, Beverly Baker, Guo Fengyi, Jill Gallieni, Madge Gill, Magali Herrera, Nina Karasek, Karoline Rosskopf, and Mary T. Smith have all come together here.

My strategy consists of three core themes: the first is my aim to round out the Gugging focus with early historical works. The second is my specific focus on female artists. The third is my concentration on international Art Brut. Following this strategy, I allow the art to come to me, rather than trying to chase it down: I receive offers from international galleries and collections, and make my decisions.

For me, collecting Art Brut is a professional project. Of course I am not just a collector, but also an economist, consultant for professional development, and lecturer. This involves a certain type of contemplation. And the context of my collection is a very specific one.

“Field research” is very important to me in my approach to Art Brut as a field of contemporary art. It includes visits to museums and exhibitions, and related travel. I have also developed a diverse network of contacts including artists, gallerists, museum directors, curators, art historians, collectors, psychiatrists, writers, and representatives from art universities and copyright associations. All their different viewpoints and experiences provide me with a steady flow of new impulses, inspirations, ideas, and visions for the future of my collection. I am self-taught when it comes to Art Brut, and am influenced by international Art Brut trends. Over the past decades, these influences have come from newly created museums such as LaM in France, the Oliva Creative Factory in Portugal, the Outsider Art Museum in the Hermitage Amsterdam in the Netherlands, and of course also the museum gugging in Austria.

Other influences have included the opening to the public of large collections, such as James Brett’s Museum of Everything, Bruno Decharme’s abcd collection, the Richard Treger - Antonio Saint Silvestre collection, and the collection of Gerhard und Karin Dammann. These influences bring my collection to life.

From 1980 to today

My Art Brut story began in the spring of 1980. I went to an exhibition of Johann Hauser and Oswald Tschirtner, two of the best-known Gugging artists, in what was then the Museum of the 20th Century in Vienna. I was overwhelmed by Johann Hauser’s exquisitely colourful depictions of women, and by his boundless vividness. At the same time, I found myself fascinated by the startling contrast of Oswald Tschirtner’s small and unassuming black ink drawings. The most remarkable quality there was in his power of reduction. He is rightly regarded as a master of minimalist imagery. Because this exhibition was in a museum, it did not even occur to me that it would be possible to actually buy any of these works.

Four years later, in 1984, I visited another exhibition which really influenced me to focus on Art Brut. That was “Primitivism in 20th Century Art” at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, showing famous artists of the 20th century such as Pablo Picasso, Alberto Giacometti, and Henri Matisse together with their collections of African and Oceanic sculptures. The striking juxtaposition of their work with these tangible objects of inspiration made a huge impression on me. There was also a section dedicated to Dada and Surrealism. Many surrealists, such as Max Ernst and Joan Miro, were influenced by primitivism and by art from psychiatric institutions.

These exhibitions in Vienna and New York inspired my interest in Art Brut. But it was another seven years before I purchased my first Gugging works by Johann Korec and August Walla from the Galerie Chobot in Vienna in 1991. I have been buying ever since. In the 1990s I became a customer of every gallery that had an exclusive Gugging focus, and since 1993 I have been a customer of Gugging itself. The first time I went there it was Johann Hauser who showed me the way to the House of Artists, when I asked for directions in the “Old Coffeehouse”. At the time I was in my mid-thirties, working as a manager in a specialist bank, and was in the process of building up my second career pillar as a consultant. Works by the two stars of Gugging, Johann Hauser and August Walla, were relatively expensive. So I concentrated initially on Oswald Tschirtner and the Gugging artists who were then still alive. From 2000 to 2006 I was a board member of the association Freunde des Hauses der Künstler in Gugging. This was during its future-oriented phase, when the House of Artists was separated from the psychiatry clinic and became established as a social welfare institution. The museum gugging was opened in 2006. And if I have my way, my collection will eventually find its way to Gugging as well.

Art Brut as a key to the world

Art Brut always means something completely unexpected; the “other” in art. And Art Brut is constantly evolving. My hypothesis is that if art is a mirror, Art Brut confronts us with the world in which we live and work. Then there is a key question that goes beyond this: what does it mean when art from the margins of our economic and social system attracts ever more interest? Perhaps Art Brut shows us precisely those “dis-placements” (“Ver-rücktheiten”) of our time that are no longer played out at the periphery, but at the centre of our system. By “dis-placement”, I mean a construction of reality that is incompatible with society. But in the context of Art Brut, to me it means a different – perhaps less conventional – approach to our reality.

Art Brut tells us about other worlds that exist, with their own internal and external “dis-placements”. In the language of economics and consultancy, these are referred to as contradictions, opposites, and paradoxes. This means that they present problems that are difficult to solve through our means of thinking and communicating. For example, we have become increasingly cosmopolitan while still being anchored in the concepts, institutions, and spheres of action of the nation-state. Change is no longer something that happens in response to an event or a stimulus; instead, transformation has become a constant. We feel as if we are at the mercy of many different forces that we cannot always even see, such as climate catastrophes, nuclear power, and digital risks.

The contradictions we can see show us that our world is out of joint. This affects both its external sense of order and its internal cohesion. A peculiar feature of our time appears to be that the exception is becoming more and more the norm; what was unthinkable yesterday has already become a reality today. German sociologist Ulrich Beck described this in his eponymous last book as “the metamorphosis of the world”. This is a different category than change, transformation, or crisis. It is about our way of being in the world. But we do not have the conceptuality for this idea yet. So perhaps Art Brut can show us that it is not a matter of fixing this world that is out of joint, but rather about understanding it as it actually is: “dis-placed”. And about finding the key to describing this transformation. It means wanting to understand the world’s “dis-placements”, to accept them, and to deal with them and the conflicts they create in a constructive way. My Art Brut project helps me to find a sense of connection and orientation in a world that is in a constant state of flux.

 

Hannah Rieger

Hannah Rieger was born in Vienna in 1957. Her parents, whose family background was Catholic and Jewish, had lived in exile in England for almost twenty years. She completed a degree in economics at the University of Vienna (Mag. rer. soc. oec), followed by two years postgraduate studies in economics at the Institute for Advanced Studies (IHS Institut für Höhere Studien) in Vienna. After a short period working as a university assistant at the University of Vienna, she joined the specialist banking group Investkredit in 1983, where she worked until 2010 in various functions including Director of Marketing and Corporate Communications. For many years, Hannah Rieger has been working as an independent consultant for professional development (group dynamics trainer at the Österreichischer Arbeitskreis für Gruppentherapie und Gruppendynamik (OeAGG – Austrian Association of Group Psychotherapy and Group Dynamics), and supervisor and coach with OeAGG and the Österreichische Vereinigung für Supervision und Coaching (OeVS – Austrian Association for Supervision and Coaching). She is also the author and editor of a number of professional publications on topics such as corporate subsidies and family businesses. In 2014 she published her first work on Art Brut – 'Kunst, die verbindet' (United in Art) – through AQ-Verlag, Vienna. The Globart book catalogue 'Living in Art Brut. 123 Works from the Hannah Rieger Collection' followed in 2017. She also works as a lecturer and moderator, e.g. on art topics. Since 2008, Hannah Rieger has been a member of the University Council at the University of Applied Arts Vienna, and since 2013 its Deputy Chairwoman. In

2011 she was awarded the title of Honorary Senator of GLOBART. Hannah Rieger has been collecting Art Brut since 1991.