A window on the mind: Heidelberg hospital displays art of the mentally ill
March 7, 2016
While planning an outing in Germany, “psychiatric clinic” probably doesn’t jump to the top of your list of places to visit. However, if you enjoy viewing eclectic works of art, that’s exactly where you should go the next time you’re in Heidelberg.
Heidelberg University Hospital houses some 20,000 paintings, drawings, sculptures, text and textile works that were created by psychiatric patients.
Known as the Prinzhorn Collection, it was started in 1919, when art historian and psychiatrists Hans Prinzhorn and Karl Willmanns asked psychiatric institutions in German-speaking countries to send them artworks created by patients. Prinzhorn was interested not only in conducting psychopathological studies but also in answering fundamental questions about human creativity.
By the time Prinzhorn left the hospital in 1921, the collection under his direction grew from a small number of drawings by Heidelberg patients to more than 5,000 items from about 450 patients from throughout the world.
After Prinzhorn’s departure, the arrival of new works slowed, stopping completely in 1933.
In 1938, parts of the collection were sent on tour with the Nazi “Degenerate Art” exhibition that sought to denigrate modern art by comparing it to the works of patients with mental disorders. Ironically, according to Heidelberg University, the original collection probably survived the National Socialist’s censorship fires because of the role it played in the Nazi attack on modern art.
Little attention was given to the collection in postwar Germany until the mid-1960s, when a selection was displayed in an established art gallery and a small, permanent exhibit was organized at the hospital.
Since 1980, an additional 14,000 works of art were added, and in 2001, a former lecture hall at the university was converted into the Prinzhorn Collection museum.
Because of the collection’s size, not all of the artwork is on display. However, exhibitions of selected works are changed three to four times a year, and scientists and artists are able to request access to the archives.
The current exhibit, “Dubuffet’s List,” is a selection of 120 works on display through April 10. The show is named after the French painter Jean Dubuffet, who viewed the Prinzhorn Collection in 1950 and typically critiqued each piece with only a few words, such as “extremely interesting,” “mediocre” and “no big deal.”
English-language handouts are available describing the history of the exhibit and selected works.
In addition to the works in “Dubuffet’s List,” there are a number of statues, text and mixed-media pieces on display.
You can easily take in the whole museum in less than a day. That will leave plenty of time to explore the nearby historic market square. Together, they make a rewarding outing in Heidelberg.
The Prinzhorn Collection DIRECTIONS From Kaiserslautern, take the A6 toward Mannheim. At the interchange 27-Kreuz Mannheim, follow the A656 toward Heidelberg. Follow B37. Turn right onto Thibautstrasse. Parking garage 15 is on the left and next to the museum.
TIMES Open 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Tuesday and Thursday through Sunday. Open 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesdays. Closed Mondays, many major and minor holidays and preparation for new exhibits.
COSTS Admission is 5 euros for adults; 3 euros for seniors and students. Children under 15 are free.
FOOD There is a cafeteria next to the museum and a wide variety of dining options in the area.
INFORMATION Phone: (+49) (0) 6221/56 4492; e-mail: Prinzhorn@uni-heidelberg.de; there is an English link at the museum website: www.prinzhorn.ukl-hd.de