Madness & Modernity: Mental illness and the visual arts in Vienna 1900
11 March 2009
The exhibition shows how psychiatry influenced early modernism in the visual arts and how modernism shaped the lives and images of mentally ill people.
Curated by architectural historian Dr Leslie Topp and art historian Dr Gemma Blackshaw, the research for the project has received support from the Arts and Humanities Research Council. This intriguing exhibition explores the work of artists such as Egon Schiele and Oskar Kokoschka, and the work of leading modernist designers and architects Josef Hoffmann and Otto Wagner, who sought to create a new kind of environment for the care and confinement of mentally ill people.
Madness & Modernity: 1 April-28 June 2009
Press preview: Tuesday 31 March, 09.30-13.00
A chance to preview the exhibition and meet the curators.
(Contact Mike Findlay for details)
Venue: Wellcome Collection, 183 Euston Road, London NW1 2BE
Gallery opening times
Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday: 10.00-18.00
Closed Monday (except bank holidays: 10.00-18.00)
Vienna was one of Europe's leading centres for psychiatric innovation around 1900, and there was an overwhelming sense of the Viennese living in 'nervous times'. Anxieties about mental health were allied to anxieties about the modern, capitalist city, with its new technologies, modes of work and play, and speeds of life. The experience of modernity gave a new impetus to the study of madness.
Madness & Modernity comprises approximately 80 exhibits, mostly from the period 1890-1914.
As well as original paintings, drawings and design objects by those named above, the exhibition will also include artworks by asylum patients, therapeutic equipment, architectural models and drawings, and two specially commissioned films by the artist David Bickerstaff. These contrast the buildings of Wagner with the kind of asylums they were designed to replace, taking viewers on a journey through the spaces of Vienna asylums of the 18th and 20th centuries.
James Peto, Senior Curator at Wellcome Collection, explains: "This exhibition is about a specific place and a specific period - one in which extraordinary things were happening in the worlds of psychiatry, the visual arts, architecture and design. The rich selection of diverse exhibits provides a wonderful opportunity to see how leaders in each of these different disciplines were helping to change forever attitudes towards mental health."
Co-curator of the exhibition, Gemma Blackshaw, comments: "When Sigmund Freud published his first writings on psychoanalysis in Vienna, the revolution in the visual arts was already well underway. Indeed, Vienna's artists, designers and architects were already interested in mental illness and psychiatry. From the creation of 'psychological' portraits to the construction of mental hospitals, this exhibition will explore how 'madness' and its cure inspired key examples of modern art and design."
Madness & Modernity presents the range of ways madness and art interacted in Vienna, from designs for utopian psychiatric spaces to the drawings of the patients confined within them.
The exhibition is split into six distinct sections: The Tower of Fools, The Modernist Mental Hospital, The Therapeutic Spectrum, The Pathological Patient, The Pathological Artist and The Patient Artist.
Fuller details on each section of the exhibition available upon request.
Coinciding with Madness & Modernity, and along the theme of mental health, is Bobby Baker's Diary Drawings, exploring an individual's experience of the mental health system. This exhibition runs until 28 June 2009.
Madness & Modernity events
Coinciding with the exhibition is a lively programme of discussions, debates, and workshops, which will allow visitors to engage in the content of the exhibition and issues and mental health.
Thursday 23 April, 19.00-20.30
The history of London's famous asylum
While Viennese artists, architects, psychiatrists and patients were working together, Londoners were developing one of the oldest surviving institutions caring for the mentally ill: the Bethlem Royal Hospital, or Bedlam. Join our guests to find out more about what was happening in psychiatry in London and Vienna at the turn of the 20th century.
With Jonathan Andrews, historian of psychiatry at Newcastle University, Catharine Arnold, author of 'Bedlam: London and its mad', and Nicky Imrie, Wellcome Collection.
Thursday 7 May, 19.00-20.30
Explore the mind, madness and criminality in a new multimedia performance
It is 1906. Catherine's uncontrollable behaviour leads her husband to seek help from a neurologist, while Michael is awaiting execution for a vicious murder. Come and immerse yourself in a multimedia performance exploring ideas about the brain in an era before scanning, and join in a discussion with the experts.
With Stephen Jacyna, historian of medicine at University College London, and Daniel Pick, psychoanalyst and professor in the School of History, Classics and Archaeology at Birkbeck, University of London
The Art and Science of Therapy
Thursday 14 May, 19.00-20.30
Join our guests for a wide-ranging discussion of Freud, psychoanalysis, cognitive behavioural therapy and more
What would Freud have thought of today's neuroscience and how has our understanding of the brain and the mind changed over the last century? This is your chance to find out what it means to have psychoanalysis and other treatments, and whether the art of therapy is as important as the science.
With Mike Brammer, Institute of Psychiatry; other speakers tbc.
Tickets are free but must be booked in advance.
For further information, see Wellcome Collection events.
Notes to editors
Senior Media Officer
T +44 (0)20 7611 8612
The research for this exhibition has been funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council.
Madness and Modernity: the book
Edited by Gemma Blackshaw and Leslie Topp, with contributions by Nicola Imrie, Luke Heighton, Sabine Wieber and Geoffrey C Howes, the 'Madness and Modernity' book coincides with the exhibition.
With more than 100 images, this groundbreaking book includes a number of short chapters that focus on specific works of particular significance. Taken in parts or as a whole, 'Madness and Modernity' is essential reading for anyone wanting to understand a fascinating facet of European modernism and society.
Published by Lund Humphries, the book is priced £35.
To request a review copy, please contact Nathalie Frankson
T +44 (0)1252 736632
Books may be ordered via the Wellcome Collection shop, directly from Lund Humphries or by calling Bookpoint Limited on +44 (0)1235 827730.
Dr Leslie Topp is Senior Lecturer in History of Architecture at Birkbeck, University of London. She is author of 'Architecture and Truth in Fin-de-Siècle Vienna' (Cambridge University Press, 2004) and co-editor of 'Madness, Architecture and the Built Environment' (Routledge, 2007). She was co-director with Gemma Blackshaw of the four-year research project ‘Madness and Modernity: Art, architecture and mental illness in Vienna and the Habsburg Empire, 1890-1914’, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council between 2004 and 2008. She is currently writing a book entitled 'Freedom and the Cage: Modern architecture and psychiatry in central Europe 1890-1914'.
Dr Gemma Blackshaw is Lecturer in Art History at the University of Plymouth and an expert on modern art in Vienna around 1900. She was co-director with Leslie Topp of the four-year research project 'Madness and Modernity: Art, architecture and mental illness in Vienna and the Habsburg Empire, 1890-1914', funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council between 2004 and 2008. She has published on Richard Gerstl, Anton Romako and Egon Schiele, and is currently working on a co-edited collection of essays that explore further territories of mental illness in this city and period, entitled 'Journeys into Madness'.
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Image: Portrait of Peter Altenberg by Gustav Jagerspacher
Image credit: Wien Museum