Extraordinary! Unknown works from Swiss Psychiatric Institutions around 1900

October 11, 2018 to January 20, 2019

The touring exhibition „Extraordinary!“ gives an insight into the fascinating art of Swiss psychiatric patients around 1900 through a multitude of exhibits. The exhibition also presents an unusual research project, intended to stimulate further research for Patient art – as many more artistic works of this kind remain, unseen, in medical records.

In a project of the Zurich University of the Arts, sponsored by the Swiss National Science Foundation, the medical records and the historical collections of 18 cantonal institutions were searched for patient works from 2006 to 2014. This was the first attempt, in Switzerland, to gain an overview of the artistic works created and kept in psychiatric institutions, focused on those works produced around 1900. The result is an image database with over 5000 works, most of which were previously unknown to researchers. A selection of these is presented to the public for the first time in the exhibition „Extraordinary!“.

Patients created these works with dedication as well as with great technical and artistic skills. They considered them as contributions to public life, as inventions, or as expressions of their thoughts, as criticism of the institution, or as an enrichment in their monotonous everyday life. Their art is characterized by their negotiation of what was considered „abnormal“, and their exclusion, as people, from public life.

The exhibition travels through three institutions and three countries. In addition to the Prinzhorn Collection in Heidelberg (Germany), it will be on display in the Kunstmuseum Thun (Switzerland) from February 9 to May 19, 2019, and in the LENTOS Kunstmuseum in Linz (Austria) from June 8 to August 18, 2019. A catalogue will be issued in German and English.