< >   perfume  lacanian ink  messageboard  bibliographies  sitemap  links 


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE For more information, please call Anne Wrinkle or Beth Finch, at (212) 219-2166.


April 15-June 10, 2000


From April 15 - June 10, 2000, The Drawing Center presented The Prinzhorn Collection: Traces upon the Wunderblock, the first New York exhibition of a legendary and influential group of works amassed in the early 1900s by the psychiatrist and art historian Hans Prinzhorn. Based at the University of Heidelberg, Germany, the collection is comprised of drawings made by psychiatric patients who suffered social exclusion, psychic illness, and isolation-experiences that are common, yet often erased from collective memory. The Drawing Center's exhibition, which consisted of over two hundred drawings and books, will mark the last time that the collection will be lent prior to the opening in 2001 of a museum at the University of Heidelberg dedicated to the collection. Following its presentation in New York, the exhibition will travel to the UCLA Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, from June 25 - September 17, 2000.

Exhibition Title
The exhibition's title, Traces upon the Wunderblock, refers to Sigmund Freud's concept of the unconscious. According to Freud, the wunderblock represents the way in which the psyche records material. He adopts the metaphor of the wunderblock, which is a child's toy, also known as the mystic writing pad, consisting of a thin sheet of clear plastic covering a thick waxed board. The user can write or draw on it with any pointed instrument, pressing through the sheet of plastic, making traces in the surface below. As soon as the sheet is lifted up, the image above disappears, while traces of it remain on the wax surface underneath. Thus, the wunderblock alludes to the way the psychic system which, having received sense reception from the outside world, remains unmarked by those impressions that then pass through it to a deeper layer where they are recorded as unconscious memory. Therefore, it illuminates the mechanism by which the repressed becomes the prototype of the unconscious.

Drawings in the exhibition, which are astounding in their beauty and intensity, chronicle the painful struggle to reconcile personal, interior existence with the demands of external forces. The Prinzhorn Collection was assembled during an era of new research into mental illness and Dr. Prinzhorn, in his belief in the curative power of personal expression, particularly through the act of drawing, was at the forefront of these methodological changes in treatment. Dr. Prinzhorn was also an advocate for the aesthetic legitimacy of the drawings in his collection. In fact, the collection was assembled with the idea of opening a museum dedicated to them in the 1920s, but due to unrest in Europe, Dr. Prinzhorn's plan for a museum was not realized during his lifetime.

Concurrent with Dr. Prinzhorn's research into mental illness were the activities of many avant-garde artists who attempted to transgress existing visual practices by exploring spontaneous acts of creation and the unconscious. People such as the artist Alfred Kubin and the sociologist Georg Simmel came to visit the collection, but its works became more widely known, particularly to artists, with the publication of Prinzhorn's Bildnerei der Geisteskranken (Artistry of the Mentally Ill) in 1922. This book became a source of inspiration to numerous European artists, particularly in Germany and France between World War I and II, and for a great number of American artists after 1945. Although avant-garde artists have often turned to the artworks of individuals who evade established categories of art history, the Prinzhorn Collection had a particular influence on the theorization and practice of automatic writing and drawing undertaken by the Surrealists. [Proof that works of the Prinzhorn Collection were challenging the most traditional notions of art became strikingly clear when, between 1931 and 1938, the collection was used by the Nazis as an example of "degenerate art." Works from the collection were juxtaposed with those by other artists such as Kokoschka, Kandinsky, and Schwitters, to discredit and reject modern art.] Following the war, interest in the modes of expression found in the Prinzhorn Collection took root in the United States, particularly during the Abstract Expressionist movement.

The exhibition was curated by The Drawing Center's Director Catherine de Zegher, in collaboration with Inge Jadi, Director of the Prinzhorn Sammlung at the University of Heidelberg, and Laurent Busine, the Director of Exhibitions at the Palace of Fine Arts in Charleroi, Belgium, who organized an exhibition of the collection in 1995, which traveled to the Hayward Gallery, London.

In conjunction with Traces upon the Wunderblock, The Drawing Center published an expanded volume of the Drawing Papers. Launched in Fall 1999, the Drawing Papers is a flexible series of exhibition and program-related publications that serves as a catalyst for public discussion on the status of drawing in a multi-media age.

The Prinzhorn volume of the Drawing Papers will offer the opportunity for new scholarly research into the collection. Containing four major essays, it will introduce New York audiences to a body of drawings that, while little known to the general public, has been influential to the theorization and practice of the avant-garde and some of the most important art movements of the twentieth century. Focusing on drawing in relation to insanity, the Drawing Papers will explore the imaginary order versus the symbolic order in visual language.

Drawing Papers (no. 7), will include a foreword and acknowledgments by Catherine de Zegher, Director, The Drawing Center, with essays by: Sander L. Gilman, Bracha Lichtenberg Ettinger, Hal Foster, and Allen S. Weiss, as well as selected color plates of works in the exhibition and an exhibition checklist.


  • Bracha Ettinger Lichtenberg is an artist and psychoanalyst born in Israel and living in Paris and Tel Aviv. She has had numerous solo exhibitions at museums throughout Europe and the Middle East including the Israel Museum, the Kanaal Art Foundation, Kortrijk, Belgium, and the Museum of Modern Art, Oxford. Recent publications include "Matrix and Metamorphosis," Differences 4, no. 3; Matrix. Halal(a)‹Lapsus: Notes on Painting 1985-1992; and "Woman as Object between Phantasy and Art," Journal of Philosophy and the Visual Arts, no. 6 (1995).

  • Hal Foster is professor in the Department of Art History, Princeton University and author of numerous books including The Return of the Real: The Avant-Garde at the End of the Century, The Anti-Aesthetic: Essays on Post Modern Culture, and Compulsive Beauty.

  • Sander L. Gilman, is the Henry R. Luce Distinguished Service Professor of the Liberal Arts in Human Biology and Chair of the Department of Germanic Studies at the University of Chicago, where he is also Professor of Germanic Studies, Comparative Literature, and Psychiatry. He is the author of numerous books and essays including Seeing the Insane, The Case of Sigmund Freud: Medicine and Identity at the Fin de Siècle, and Making the Body Beautiful: A Cultural History of Aesthetic Surgery.

  • Allen S. Weiss is the author of Unnatural Horizons: Paradox and Contradiction in Landscape Architecture, The Aesthetic of Excess, and Perverse Desire and the Ambiguous Iconous Modernism, among other works. He teaches in the Department of Performance Studies and Cinema Studies at New York University.

In addition to the Drawing Papers, The Drawing Center will also carry the publication Beyond Reason, Art and Psychosis: Works from the Prinzhorn Collection, published by the Hayward Gallery, London, in conjunction with a 1997 exhibition of the same name. The book contains color reproductions of the majority of works in The Drawing Center's exhibition, as well as essays on the history of the collection by Inge Jadi, Director, the Prinzhorn Collection, University of Heidelberg and Bettina Brand-Claussen, Assistant Curator. The Drawing Center will also have a limited number of copies of La Beaute Insensee: Collection Prinzhorn, an exhibition presented at the Ville de Charleroi, Palace des Beaux-Arts, Brussels, Belgium (October 14, 1995-January 28, 1996).

The Prinzhorn Collection: Traces upon the Wunderblock is made possible, in part, through a generous grant from The Howard Gilman Foundation. Additional support has been provided by the New York State Council on the Arts, the National Endowment for the Arts, Frances Beatty Adler and Allen Adler, and Sally and Howard Lepow.

(March 23, 2000)


back up