In Search of Art Brut

May 13 - July 20, 2005

Andrew's European tour of seminal Outsider destinations

Spurred on by the rave reviews of "Dubuffet and Art Brut" at the Museum Kunst Palast in Düsseldorf, I decided to make it the first stop on a weeklong journey through Germany and Switzerland, targeting seminal Outsider Art destinations.

Joining me would be Christian Schneeberger, my partner from St. Gallen who represented Hans Krüsi(1920-1995) when he was alive, and Michael DeRoker, a filmmaker who is in the research phase of a feature length documentary on Outsider Art.

Friday, May 13

"Dubuffet and Art Brut", Museum Kunst Palast, Düsseldorf

Having driven 2 hours from Frankfurt immediately after our arrival, we had time to check into our hotel and then immediately took a cab to the museum where we had a 4 PM meeting with Jean-Hubert Martin, the Museum Kunst Palast director and curator of the exhibition. Mr. Martin received us warmly and reminded us that the exhibit would be traveling to the Collection de L'Art Brut in Lausanne through the summer, and than to the Musée d'Art Moderne L'ille Metropole in France after that.

The exhibit was very powerful and John Maizel's review in the current Raw Vision really hit it on the head. The room devoted to Henry Darger was especially moving, the pieces hung from the ceiling in a geometric array, enabling us to meander in and out seeing both sides of each piece.

Other highlights were the dark, circular room of the seashell constructions of Pascal-Desir Maissoneuve, the room of Willem Van Genk paintings (Sadly, we learned that he had passed away the day before), and some of the Prinzhorn aritsts, specifically Natterer and Müller. Vojislav Jakic (1932-2003) and Guillaume Pujolle(1893-1971) were 2 standouts whose work I had been unfamiliar with.

I would urge anyone planning to go to Europe this summer to try and see this historic show. I have catalogs of the show at the gallery should anyone like to thumb through one. There are two versions only, German and French.

Saturday, May 14

We needed to spend a few more hours at the Kunst Palast as we'd been so exhausted the day before. Honestly, we could have gone back many times.

We then headed to Cologne, less than an hour away, where we visited Suzanne Zander's gallery on Antwerpen Street. She had a beautiful exhibition of the works of Jean-Pierre Nadau, whose work I had admired at Luise Ross' booth at the Outsider Art Fair (Roberta Smith also praised it in her review of the fair)and who has a huge masterpiece drawing at the Charlotte Zander Museum which we would see in a few days.

Sunday, May 15

Before leaving for Heidelberg we visited the Ludwig Museum, one of the most important in Germany. They have a great selection of 20th century art, in the vein of MOMA, as well as some more cutting edge contemporary exhibits. It was certainly thought-provoking to be immersed in an environment so antithetical to the Düsseldorf show. Yet we saw some of the most beautiful Picassos, Kokoschkas and Polkes ever. Also glad to see a book on Schiele by Jane Kallir at the bookshop.

On to Heidelberg. We arrived in time to have Weiswurst for dinner at a local restaurant and pretty much called it a night.

Monday, May 16

We met Thomas Roeske, the director of the Prinzhorn Collection at 11 AM. We were grateful that he opened up especially for us. He guided us through an incredible exhibit called "Expressionism and Insanity", showing works by Kirchener and Kubin alongside some of Prinzhorn's patients like Franz Karl Bühler and Else Blankenhorn. The infamous "Degenerate Art" show in 1937 would also put the famous expressionists besides the work of these mental patients in an effort to demean them. Kirchener eventually killed himself and Bühler and others were killed by the Nazis.

Thomas took us downstairs to the vault and showed us some beautiful drawings by Natterer and 2 Wölfli masterpieces from 1907 that had been obtained from Morganthaler. Thomas urged us to see the Charlotte Zander Museum whch we had been wavering on.

And I'm glad we did. Nestled in the small village of Bönnigheim the museum is housed in a beautiful mansion that Mrs. Zander took over in 1996. Her collection has been compiled over the last 45 years and was originally focused on French Naive Art (Bombois, Bauchant) most of which I was unfamiliar with. She added art brut to her collection at some point and has one the of the most astounding Wölflis I've seen, Traylor, Van Genk, Krüsi, a huge trove of Sekulics, and to my astonishment 3 gorgeous Hirshfields.

We headed to Switzerland after this visit and ended up in Zurich for the night.

Tuesday, May 17

It was a beautiful Swiss morning and we had a 40 km drive to Karthause Ittingen, a stunning museum that was formerly a 12th century monastery. The estate of Hans Krüsi is housed there together with works by other outsiders ranging from Theo to photographs by Eugene Von Bruenchenhein. Director Markus Landert gave us a wonderful tour of the grounds and also showed us some work by a few local outsiders.

From Karthause we headed back to Zurich and stopped in at a few galleries before calling it a day.

Wednesday, May 18

Woke up and headed straight to Bern where we were to meet Daniel Baumann at the Wölfli Foundation. Daniel showed us a few of Wölfli's original books. They were so beautiful. He also pulled out a few boxes of smaller works that were in immaculate condition, something we don't see very often. Daniel was extremely generous with his time and we are of course very grateful.

We took a taxi to Waldau, the asylum where Wölfli lived and saw the largest, most masterful work "Memorandum" of his life. Indescribable. We also saw the furniture that he transformed which was incredible.

On to Lausanne for the night.

Thursday, May 19

At the Collection de l'Art Brut we were met by curator Sarah Lombardi (Lucienne Peiry was in India working on an upcoming Nek Chand exhibit) and given a tour of 2 exhibitions, one on mediumistic art that included very obscure drawings from Czechoslovakia made in the early 20th century. We also learned that Sarah was curating an interesting show opening in Montreal in October. I will keep you posted.

Of course the permanently installed works by Aloise, Madge Gill, Wölfli and others were great to see again.

We headed to Geneva where we stopped in at a little gallery called A Sardine Stuck to the Wall which shows Outsider Art as well. We enjoyed a drink as they were having an opening.

Friday, May 20

Homeward bound. Whew!

I would encourage everyone who is interested in this field to visit some or all of these sites.
All of our hosts couldn't have been more professional and generous. I am sure it will take some time to fully absorb the experience, and I look forward to keeping you informed on the progress of the film. The power of the early Art Brut works is deep and inspiring.

If anyone would like more information about any of the destinations mentioned above it would be my pleasure to share with you. Many thanks!

AE