Wednesday 11 April 2018

jenseits oder art brut

A bit nonplussed with myself for not having taken the opportunity to venture out on this vector sooner, I took advantage of the fine weather to return to Heidelberg, visiting after a rather long absence. Though I only had the vague agenda of going in search of this artefact that I’d learned about recently (but more on that later), I didn’t really have a plan and familiar with the old town, just wanted to enjoy the day.
Beginning on the opposite bank in the Neuenheim district, I ascended the Heiligenberg (the Saints’ Mountain) and marched down the northern slope along the scenic and duly reflective Philosophenweg and enjoyed the views of the town below as I approached the Neckar and the crossed at the Old Bridge.
I was mistaken about where the autobiographical jacket of Agnes Richter was displayed, along with the rest of the curated collection of psychiatrist and art historian Hans Prinzhorn (DE/EN) but did locate the facilities that housed the former asylum and saw in the venerable campus museum—the University of Heidelberg founded in 1386—how the institution appeared during Nazi times and had a peek inside the ornate lecture hall, die Alte Aula.
Admission to the University Museum also included a tour of the Student Prison (der Studentenkarzer)—a pastiche of the various incarnations that the jail had taken from the days of the university’s founding until the outbreak of World War I, which afforded those with affiliation to the university a special and separate jurisdiction from regular townsfolk and generally lighter punishment for youthful indiscretions.
A sentence rather became a badge of honour and right-of-passage with the rise of fraternal organisations. Having already seen a lot, I sort of lost track of my quest and thought it would need to wait for another day but I recalled where the school of medicine was located and decided to look there.
I wasn’t sure how the gallery had escaped my notice beforehand—given all the opportunities that I had to explore Heidelberg in the past but a rather overwhelming and solemn experience awaited me.
Taking interest in the art that his patients produced not only as a psychologically heuristic tool but also for their aesthetic value, Prinzhorn began curating his collection in the 1920s and took special care that their art was documented and conserved—even through the ravages of World War II and euthanasia campaigns that murdered many of the artists.
Overcome by the expressive styles—something that I can’t quite name, informed surely from distress and disassociation but at the same time insightful, I found the exhibit fascinating and altogether something that I was not quite prepared for.
Embedded within the walls of the gallery space were several offices occupied by psychologists and one saw people come and go amid the paintings.  Moved by these testimonials that offered a glimpse into the mental state of the artists, I had nearly forgotten about Agnes Richter’s jacket and inquired with one of the staff members (who also handpick among the thousands of objects in the collection which works of art to display on a rotating basis) and was told it could only be viewed as part of a guided tour, which I’d arrived too late for.
I wasn’t disappointed, filled with so many other impressions to filter through, and resolved to visit again—since the exhibit regularly changes—when H could join me. Being a psychotherapist, I think it is something that H would be interested in seeing as well.