Monika Jagfeld

From Gugging to Chandigarh

From Gugging to Chandigarh, Hannah Rieger’s journeys take her around the world in search of Art Brut, or Outsider Art. In fact, these are not just geographic journeys, but journeys to other worlds, with very different kinds of lives, ideas, and art.

Journeys to Other Worlds

The collector Hannah Rieger truly lives in Art Brut. This does not merely mean owning an art collection and living with it. Hunting down works that are prized by the art market also does not appeal to her. Instead, she says, she only collects what she has seen and experienced herself. Once deeply touched by a drawing by the Gugging artist Oswald Tschirtner, since that exhibition in 1980 she has been infected with a passion for Outsider Art. Tschirtner has remained one of the most important artists to her. At the center of this passion is always the encounter with the work, the moment of being touched and allowing this meeting of minds to take place. Thus, the collector delves into artistic universes as well as the significant life circumstances of the artists themselves. She travels to different places to see and discover Outsider Art, to gain a sense of the artistic process. Her outlook on life has long been shaped by art.

A native of Vienna, her starting point was the Haus der Künstler in Gugging (House of Artists), naturally. The first two works that Hannah Rieger purchased at Galerie Chobot in Vienna in 1991 were by the Gugging artists Johann Korec and August Walla. This was the beginning of her journeys to other worlds, and she often returns to Gugging. She also served on the board of the association Freunde des Hauses der Künstler in Gugging, from 2000 to 2006. With about 250 of a total of some 400 works, about two-thirds of her collection is made up of artists from Gugging. Nearly all the artists from the Haus der Künstler are represented in her collection, the major “stars” of the first generation who worked under the psychiatrist Leo Navratil, including Johann Hauser, August Walla, and an extensive selection of thirty-six works by Oswald Tschirtner. These are now considered classics of Art Brut – along with works by Josef Bachler, Barbara Demlczuk, Anton Dobay, Alois Fischbach, Johann Fischer, Franz Gableck, Johann Garber, Ernst Herbeck, Aurel Iselstöger, Franz Kamlander, Franz Kernbeis, Fritz Koller, Johann Korec, Rudolf Limberger (Max), Fritz Opitz, Otto Prinz, and Philipp Schöpke. Hannah Rieger also focuses on younger and currently working artists from Gugging, such as Leonhard Fink, Heinrich Reisenbauer, Arnold Schmidt, Günther Schützenhöfer, Jürgen Tauscher, Karl Vondal, and the “newcomer” Leopold Strobl. She maintains close contact with Laila Bachtiar – along with Karoline Rosskopf, one of the few female artists in Gugging – or, to be more precise, the only woman currently working in the studio who is also represented by the gallery. Her collection includes forty-four drawings by Laila Bachtiar alone. A true family friendship developed between Hannah Rieger, her mother Marga Rieger, whose apartment was decorated with works by Laila Bachtiar, the artist, and the artist’s mother. Kunst, die verbindet (2014), Hannah Rieger’s first publication on her collection, includes an interview with Marga Rieger, who discusses her fondness for the artists and Laila Bachtiar. 1) For Hannah Rieger, living in Art Brut also includes the people who are closest to her.

Hannah Rieger has always enjoyed traveling, fascinated by faraway countries: the United States, Venezuela, Peru, Hong Kong. Her openness to other cultures and ways of life is elementary – an openness that surely forms the basis for her devotion to and deep understanding of Outsider Art. She took an interest in India in particular. After her first visit in 1976, she returned to India more than twenty times. This explains her enthusiasm for Nek Chand’s life’s work, the Rock Garden of Chandigarh, with its famous life-sized ceramic figures, today one of the most important tourist destinations in India. Of course, Hannah Rieger visited the site to experience it herself in 2009, and in 2011 she also visited Nek Chand’s second rock garden in Kerala. Her collection also includes two small figures by Nek Chand.

Between Gugging and Chandigarh are places with works by other important international artists in Hannah Rieger’s collection. The collector has made it her goal to integrate at least two “museum pieces” by each artist into her collection. Only part of the collection can be presented in the exhibition and the publication: Guo Fengyi, Madge Gill, Jaime Fernandes, Michel Nedjar, Raimundo Camilo, Hassan, Perihan Arpacilar, Pearl Blauvelt, Jill Gallieni, Beverly Baker, Martha Grunenwaldt, Nina Karasek, Margarethe Held, Marilena Pelosi, Paul Goesch, Magali Herrera, Davood Koochaki, Pradeep Kumar, Dan Miller, Donald Mitchell, André Robillard, Yuichi Saito, Mary T. Smith, Thérèse Bonnelalbay, Agatha Wojciechowsky, Scottie Wilson, Josef Hofer, Josef Wittlich and Carlo Zinelli. Due to spatial constraints, the exhibition is limited to around 120 masterpieces from the Hannah Rieger Collection, and yet it offers a dense overview that presents a representative cross section of this carefully compiled collection. Furthermore, individual works that are close to the collector’s heart are featured in the publication, such as the dinosaurs by Julia Krause-Harder from Atelier Goldstein in Frankfurt am Main.

It is important to Hannah Rieger to make her collection as publicly accessible as possible, to document, exhibit, and publish it. In a 2014 interview she stated: “Only what can be perceived exists.” 2) And she notes the fate of her great-uncle Heinrich Rieger. Without being documented, his collection of contemporary art including numerous works by Egon Schiele was confiscated and lost under the Nazis, and Heinrich Rieger himself was murdered in Theresienstadt in 1942. He may be a model for Hannah Rieger not only as a collector, but also in his turn toward avant-garde art, since the avant-garde and the history of Art Brut are closely linked.

“Art of the Mentally Ill” and the Avant-Garde

While in the late nineteenth century in Europe it was the psychiatrists who showed interest in, collected, and traded their patients’ artworks with one another, in the early twentieth century it was avant-garde artists who related to the so-called “art of the mentally ill” and used this “pure” art as a model. “Anyone who directly and purely portrays what makes him create is one of us,” the 1906 manifesto of the artist’s group Die Brücke states. For instance, during his stay at the Bellevue private sanatorium in Kreuzlingen in 1917 and 1918, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, a member of the group, was shown the patient Else Blankenhorn’s pictures by the psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Ludwig Binswanger, which deeply impressed and inspired him. “A [mentally] ill person’s pictures are very stimulating to me,” Kirchner wrote to Henry van de Velde in September 1917. 3)

The art historian and physician Hans Prinzhorn, who was influenced by Expressionism, compiled the largest historical collection of works by patients at the Heidelberg university clinic from 1919 to 1921 for a planned “Museum of Pathological Art,” which he published in his epochal book Bildnerei der Geisteskranken (Art by the Mentally Ill) in 1922. Prinzhorn was passionately moved by the expressive, mystically charged drawings by the metalsmith Franz Karl Bühler, whom he gave the pseudonym Franz Pohl. 4) To Prinzhorn he was the most important of his “schizophrenic masters.” His now lost drawing Der Würgengel adorns the frontispiece of Prinzhorn’s book, and he compares Bühler’s self-portraits with those of van Gogh. 5) However, Prinzhorn avoided using the words “art” and “artist,” since the deliberate creation of art and artistic intention contradict his idea of immediate “schizophrenic expression.” In studying the “art of the mentally ill,” he sought a “real” and “original” art and sketched the model of the autonomous “mentally ill creator,” whose inspiration and expression are fed by schizophrenia, unaffected by social and cultural indoctrination. Prinzhorn does not question mental illness; instead, he considers it a requirement for art. “They do not know what they are doing” 6) is his premise, which is intended to pave the way for another form of art beyond academic artistic production – which Prinzhorn called “intellectual replacement constructions.” 7) Analogous to the differentiation of the fundamental mental states of “inspiration” versus “schizophrenic feeling,” he distinguishes between “art” (Kunst) and “creations” (Bildnerei) “of the mentally ill.” 8)

This contrasts with psychiatrist Walter Morgenthaler at the Waldau mental asylum near Bern, who in 1921, one year before Prinzhorn, explicitly titled his publication on Adolf Wölfli Ein Geisteskranker als Künstler (A Mental Patient as an Artist). He helped organize Wölfli’s first exhibition in Bern while he was still living and enabled him to sell his art to a certain extent, which required special provisions by his psychiatrist in 1919. Within just two years, until 1921 Wölfli sold or donated some 400 drawings to doctors, staff members, and visitors. He even received art commissions from the institute’s administration and “requested that his cell be set up as a museum, not for patients.” 9) Sixty years later, Leo Navratil laid the foundation for Wölfli’s idea when he opened the Haus der Künstler at the Landeskrankenhaus für Psychiatrie und Neurologie Maria Gugging in 1981, initially called the Zentrum für Kunst-Psychotherapie (Center for Art Psychotherapy). Since the 1960s, he has published writings on “schizophrenia and art” and shaped the concept of “condition-related art.” In 1973 Navratil wrote his pioneering statement: “I believe that every psychiatric hospital could be a center for art, but for now editions of this kind are still rare.” 10) After the closing of the Gugging clinic in 2007, the Art Brut Center Gugging with its gallery, studio, and museum remained on the site.

But back to the avant-garde: In the early twentieth century, Prinzhorn’s book, with its numerous illustrations, was circulated in artist circles. After being brought to Paris by Max Ernst, it was enthusiastically received by his fellow Surrealists. To the Surrealists it was a reflection of the écriture automatique that they strove for. 11) At the same time, Alfred Kubin sought a mirror of his myth of unconscious creativity in the works of the “mentally ill.” Kubin was no stranger to mental crises and called himself a “spirit dancer” surrounded by an “army of wicked spirits.” 12) Led by the hospital director Karl Wilmanns, Kubin visited the “Collection of the Art of the Mentally Ill” in Heidelberg in September 1920 and published his impressions in the Kunstblatt in 1922 just as Prinzhorn’s book was being published. 13) It is not surprising that Kubin also felt a close affinity for Bühler’s work and received four of his drawings in an exchange with Prinzhorn. 14)

Also influenced by Prinzhorn’s book, the French artist Jean Dubuffet returned to his longing for an “original” art after the end of the Second World War and coined the term Art Brut in 1945 as a result of his collecting. The unspoiled “anticultural art” that he postulated pointed the way out of his own creative crisis. Whether Kirchner, Kubin, Ernst, and Dubuffet, or Picasso, Joseph Beuys, and Roman Signer, not to mention Arnulf Rainer’s important collection, it has always been the progressive artists, representatives of an avant-garde, who feel drawn to non-academic art. Without the photographs and accounts of the moving objects made by Heinrich Anton Müller from the mental hospital in Münsingen, Switzerland, Jean Tinguely’s machine art would be inconceivable. 15)

This non-conformist element that is inherent to Art Brut is likely due to the renewed interest of the contemporary art market for Outsider Art. Internationally important art events and prestigious contemporary art museums have increasingly integrated Outsider Art into their programs in recent years. Notable highlights include the exhibition World Transformers at the Schirn Kunsthalle in Frankfurt in 2010 and 2011, the Secret Universe series at the Hamburger Bahnhof in Berlin from 2011 to 2013, documenta 13 in 2012 in Kassel, The Shadow of the Avant-Garde: Rousseau and the Forgotten Masters at the Museum Folkwang in Essen in 2015 and 2016, Glossolalia: Languages of Drawing at MoMA in New York in 2008, and the euward, the Award for Painting and Graphic Arts in the Context of Mental Disability, which was repeatedly presented at the Haus der Kunst in Munich under Chris Dercon until 2011. A turning point was the exhibition project Palazzo Enciclopedico by the curator Massimiliano Gioni at the Venice Biennale in 2013, which not only integrated Outsider Art, but made it its focus. However, it should not be forgotten that Harald Szeemann launched this movement already in 1972 with documenta 5 and the presentation there by Adolf Wölfli, and he included works of Outsider Art in his various exhibition projects and publications. Also worth mentioning is the exhibition of works from the Prinzhorn Collection on the centenary of the Venice Biennale in 1995 entitled Identità e Alterità: Figure del corpo 1895/1995.

Mental Journeys

Avant-garde art in the early twentieth century was characterized by the exploration of mental sensations, the unconscious, and influences from psychoanalysis. Egon Schiele’s oeuvre offers a reflection par excellence among Viennese artists of the fragility of existence. With her collection of Art Brut or Outsider Art and a particular focus on Viennese Art Brut artists from Gugging, Hannah Rieger continues the legacy of her great-uncle on a new level. Her journeys between worlds thus also allow her to pursue lost connections. After all, though her collecting does not focus exclusively on art from the psychiatric context, the balancing act between divergent states of being in Outsider Art is palpable. Her life in Art Brut is for the “health of my soul,” as she openly admits. 16) Prinzhorn and Dubuffet also turned to this “other” art at the turning point after the major catastrophes of the two world wars of the twentieth century, as if they were looking for cultural salvation in areas of art that were not only “uninfluenced” but “innocent.”

Daniel Baumann describes the work of Adolf Wölfli as that of an “armchair traveler.” His fictional journeys around the world, in which the author reinvents himself and becomes the hero of the “St. Adolf Giant Creation,” take place in the mind, fed by atlases, books, and magazines. He does not simply invent his world, but assembles it from pieces of the world from which he has been excluded. Journeys between worlds in Outsider Art are mental journeys – for the artists and also for the recipients of the works, “fed” by art, the work.

Leo Navratil explained that his understanding of “condition-related art” not only in regard to psychotic people; rather, he also spoke of the “condition-relatedness of art by non-psychotic professional artists,” and claimed “that even the reception of art by the public requires a state of altered consciousness – in other words, it is not possible without an affective involvement.” 17) This altered state of consciousness, in Navratil’s words, which Hannah Rieger also enters as a recipient, is what creates the specific connection between the collector and her collection, which defines the exclusivity of her way of “living in Art Brut.” Whether on physical journeys around the world to locations of Outsider Art or journeys to other worlds as affective participation in the mental journeys of Art Brut artists, Hannah Rieger always travels with art – from Gugging to Chandigarh – around the world.

 

References

  1. “Marga Rieger und ihre Künstlerinnen: Jasmin Wolfram zu Gast bei Marga Rieger,” in: Hannah Rieger (ed.), Kunst, die verbindet, Vienna, 2014, p. 45–47.
  2. “Hannah Rieger und ihre ver-rückte Passion: Jasmin Wolfram im Gespräch mit Hannah Rieger,” in: Hannah Rieger (ed.), Kunst, die verbindet, Vienna, 2014, ibid., p. 17–42, here: p. 20.
  3. Thomas Röske, “‘Ist das nicht doch recht pathologisch?’ – Kirchner und das ‘Kranke’ in der Kunst,” in: Expressionismus und Wahnsinn, exh. cat. Schloß Gottorf, Schleswig, Munich et al., 2003, p. 156–169, here: p. 157.
  4. Franz K. Bühler, b. 28 Aug. 1864, murdered by the Nazis on 5 Mar. 1940 at the Grafeneck killing center.
  5. Hans Prinzhorn, Bildnerei der Geisteskranken: Ein Beitrag zur Psychologie und Psychopathologie der Gestaltung, 1922, 4th edition, Vienna/New York, 1994, p. 286. Cf. Monika Jagfeld, “Geistertänzer: Franz Karl Bühler Ein ‘Geisteskranker’ als Expressionist?”, in: Expressionismus und Wahnsinn, 2003 (see note 3), p. 88–99.
  6. Hans Prinzhorn (1922), 1994, ibid., p. 343.
  7. Hans Prinzhorn (1922), 1994, ibid., p. 348.
  8. Hans Prinzhorn (1922), 1994, ibid., p. 3 and 342.
  9. Adolf Wölfli’s patient file at the Waldau mental asylum, entry from 24 Nov. 1921, in: Walter Morgenthaler, Ein Geisteskranker als Künstler: Adolf Wölfli, 1921, addendum: Krankengeschichte, Vienna, 1985, p. 142.
  10. Leo Navratil, Die Künstler aus Gugging: Zustandsgebundene Kunst, Vienna/Berlin, 1983, p. 31.
  11. Cf. Thomas Röske/Ingrid von Beyme (eds.), Surrealismus und Wahnsinn/Surrealism and Madness, exh. cat. Sammlung Prinzhorn, Heidelberg, 2009.
  12. Entry in the Koeppel guestbook, 1922, in: Peter Assmann, Alfred Kubin (1877–1959). With a catalogue raisonné of the collection at the Oberösterreichisches Landesmuseum Linz, exh. cat., Linz, 1995 (= Kubin-Projekt, 1995, vol. 1), p. 108. See also Alfred Kubin, Die andere Seite: Ein phantastischer Roman, 1909, Leipzig, 1984.
  13. Alfred Kubin, “Die Kunst der Irren,” in: Das Kunstblatt 6, 1922, no. 5, p. 185–188, reprint in: Alfred Kubin: Aus meiner Werkstatt: Gesammelte Prosa mit 71 Abbildungen, ed. Ulrich Riemerschmidt, Munich, 1976, p. 13–17.
  14. Cf. Bettina Brand-Claussen: “… can be seen alongside the best Expressionists.” “Alfred Kubin, Wahnsinns-Blätter und die ‘Kunst der Irren’”, in: Expressionismus und Wahnsinn, 2003 (see note 3), p. 136–155, here: p. 154–155.
  15. Cf. Monika Jagfeld, “Maschinenträume: Anarchistische Konstruktionen der Ewigkeit bei Heinrich Anton Müller und Jean Tinguely,” in: Ingrid von Beyme/Thomas Röske (eds.), ungesehen und unerhört: Künstler reagieren auf die Sammlung Prinzhorn, vol. 1, Bildende Kunst/F
  16. Hannah Rieger, 2014 (see note 2), p. 20.
  17. Leo Navratil, 1983 (see note 10), p. 21.

 

Monika Jagfeld

Monika Jagfeld was born in 1964 in Herne, in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany, and grew up near Cologne. She completed her degree in art history, psychology and Christian archaeology with a master’s dissertation titled “The international exhibition ‘Women in Need’, 1931 in Berlin – a reconstruction”; a PhD followed, with a doctoral thesis titled “Outside in – historical context in the works of the Prinzhorn collection, as exemplified by Rudolf Heinrichshofen”. She also has a professional qualification in arts management. From 1994 to 2007 she was the academic research staff at the Prinzhorn Collection in Heidelberg. From 2006 to 2007 she was also Co-director of the Charlotte Zander Museum at Bönnigheim Castle in Germany, which specialises in classical international Naive Art and Art Brut. Since 2008 she has been Director of the Museum im Lagerhaus, Stiftung für schweizerische Naive Kunst und Art Brut (the Foundation for Swiss Naive Art and Art Brut) in St. Gallen, Switzerland.

Monika Jagfeld has curated many exhibitions on Art Brut and is the author of a number of specialist publications on Art Brut. She was also a jury member for INSITA, the International Triennial for Self-Taught Art in Bratislava. She is a member of the curating committee for euward, the Award for Painting and Graphic Arts in the Context of Mental Disability, based in Munich, member of the committee for the Prix Suisse d’Art Brut and member of the board of the European Outsider Art Association (EOA).