LIT­ER­ARY LAND­SCAPES

Creative Feel - - CONTENTS - Lit­er­ary Land­scapes is a monthly col­umn by IN­DRA WUS­SOW, a writer, trans­la­tor and di­rec­tor of the Sylt Foun­da­tion.

In­dra Wus­sow ex­plores out­sider art in Hei­del­berg, Ger­many.

Con­tin­u­ing my ex­plo­ration of the Ger­man town of Hei­del­berg, I find that lit­er­a­ture is om­nipresent. Tak­ing a walk through the city, pub­lish­ing houses, book­shops and li­braries can be found around al­most ev­ery cor­ner. Look­ing at the vi­brant scene of writ­ers, trans­la­tors and the­atre life, one finds a high level of lit­er­ary pro­duc­tive­ness. The city was de­clared a UNESCO City of Lit­er­a­ture within UNESCO’s Cre­ative Cities Net­work on 1 De­cem­ber 2014 and thus cel­e­brates its long ded­i­ca­tion to lit­er­a­ture and cul­ture. There are one-and-a-half book­shops for ev­ery 10 000 Hei­del­berg res­i­dents. Hei­del­berg is tra­di­tion­ally home not just to shops sell­ing new books, but also to a large net­work of sec­ond-hand book­sellers. All of these to­gether make an im­por­tant con­tri­bu­tion to the cul­tural life of the city.

One of the most orig­i­nal is the book­shop and art gallery in Haus Ca­jeth in the heart of Hei­del­berg’s fa­mous old town. This baroque palace has long been a cul­tural light­house typ­i­cal of the city’s pro­lific in­tel­lec­tual life. Dur­ing the 1830s, the then own­ers of the palace, the Jewish en­tre­pre­neur­ial Zim­mern fam­ily, hosted fa­mous soirées in their home. In­tel­lec­tual gi­ants such as Lud­wig Börne, Niko­laus Le­nau and Lud­wig Uh­land were fre­quent guests of the fam­ily. To­day, the book­shop is a trea­sure trove with an abun­dance of books whose ex­plo­ration would take hours. New dis­cov­er­ies com­pel visi­tors to spend some money, and the knowl­edge­able book­seller, Bar­bara Schulz, im­parts so much about the cul­tural his­tory of the city and the re­gion. She was the life part­ner of Egon Hass­becker (1924 – 2013), the founder of the book­shop and owner of one of the most fa­mous col­lec­tions of ‘out­sider art’. The book­shop and art gallery have been sit­u­ated in Hei­del­berg since 1982 when Hass­becker moved here from the small town of Eber­bach on the Neckar.

This versatile and vi­sion­ary man was a young sol­dier dur­ing World War II and en­dured many years as a pris­oner

of war in one of the Soviet Gu­lags. Af­ter dif­fi­cult years of up­root­ing, he set­tled in the Neckar re­gion and dis­cov­ered the art of ‘out­siders’: of those artists who cre­ated orig­i­nal art­works with­out any for­mal train­ing. Dur­ing his ex­ten­sive trav­els around the world, Egon Hass­becker built a unique col­lec­tion of paint­ings from un­known artists who had been work­ing with­out any men­tor. Those whose oeu­vre can­not be associated with any artis­tic style.

Hass­becker ex­plained the ini­tial spark for his col­lec­tion as fol­lows: ‘in the 1970s, there was a pre­vail­ing trend to dis­cover the so-called “naïve paint­ing”. I felt this theme should be thor­oughly scru­ti­nised and I started to en­gage with paint­ings that were crafted by non-aca­demic artists, but which dis­play their own co­her­ent form.’ Bri­tish out­sider artist He­len Downie, who started her ca­reer with­out any for­mal ed­u­ca­tion when she was 48 years old says, ‘If you don’t study art, your sub­ject mat­ter is en­tirely dif­fer­ent, ev­ery­thing comes from in­side you – which is both an ad­van­tage and a dis­ad­van­tage. I never have any­one else’s opin­ions on what I should cre­ate, whereas I know there can be pres­sure at art school to pro­duce some­thing oth­ers ap­pre­ci­ate.’

Folk art, out­sider art, Art Brut – no mat­ter what you call it, the work of self-taught artists has been fas­ci­nat­ing cu­ra­tors, and other artists, for the past one hun­dred years. In­spired by a vi­sion, these artists are of­ten driven by an ob­ses­sion to re­alise their ideas on found ma­te­ri­als, us­ing makeshift meth­ods that might seem il­log­i­cal but end up lead­ing to pro­found works of art. The Haus Ca­jeth mu­seum/ gallery shows not only parts of Hass­becker’s col­lec­tion, but con­tin­ues to dis­cover new artists and of­fers art lovers the op­por­tu­nity to learn more about the ‘prim­i­tive art of the twen­ti­eth cen­tury’. The beau­ti­ful palace and its gen­er­ous ar­chi­tec­ture pro­vide the per­fect am­bi­ence for a re­con­sid­er­a­tion of tra­di­tional un­der­stand­ings of art.

It is a real as­set for the city of Hei­del­berg to have this pi­o­neer­ing place next to the fa­mous Prinzhorn Col­lec­tion, a col­lec­tion of art­works ex­clu­sively cre­ated by the men­tally ill. Located in a univer­sity psy­chi­atric clinic, the Prinzhorn Col­lec­tion is de­voted to col­lect­ing art that acted like win­dows into the psy­che of its men­tally ill pa­tients.

The col­lec­tion is named af­ter art his­to­rian Hans Prinzhorn, who was ed­u­cated in med­i­cal sci­ence dur­ing World War I and sought to merge his two dis­ci­plines af­ter the war. Af­ter join­ing the Univer­sity of Hei­del­berg Psy­chi­atric Clinic in 1919, Prinzhorn was tasked with ex­pand­ing the arts pro­gramme, which had been es­tab­lished among the pa­tients. Un­der Prinzhorn’s di­rec­tion, the col­lec­tion of art­works from suf­fer­ers of ev­ery­thing from schizophre­nia to de­pres­sion grew to over 5 000 pieces from over 450 pa­tients. To­day, the col­lec­tion is still on dis­play in the Univer­sity of Hei­del­berg Psy­chi­atric Clinic and has been ex­panded with works from sim­i­lar pro­grammes across the globe. Paint­ings, wooden sculp­tures, col­lages, and sketches from men­tally ill pa­tients are now on per­ma­nent dis­play giv­ing a cre­ative voice to decades of an oth­er­wise cre­atively con­fined group.

Fo­cused ef­forts to ob­tain syn­ergy ef­fects be­tween these two ‘out­sider art’ col­lec­tions have en­abled a broader pub­lic to ques­tion their per­cep­tions of ‘prim­i­tive art’ and art in it­self, mak­ing Hei­del­berg a ma­jor des­ti­na­tion for un­con­ven­tional art afi­ciona­dos.

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