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Art as rescue within insanity and mental alienation

07 February 2011 / 16:02:30  GRReporter
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Zdravka Mihaylova

for GRReporter

Last year in one of the largest hospitals in Athens, ‘Sotiria’ was implemented the project "The hospital as a place of memory and pain" the goal of which was to revive hospitals through art. The four-year Urban Dig Project (Excavating cultural phantoms in the modern city) of the performing arts company Όχι παίζουμε is still running. The project focuses on excavations of urban landscape and cultural history of the contemporary city. Within its scope for a second year in a row the music and theatre play ‘Moskov Selim’ is performed, based on the last story of the famous Greek writer G. Vizyinos almost unknown in Bulgarian translation. Its stage is a desolate orchestra hall in Ωδείο Αθηνών – the Athens Conservatory where the author had taught the last two years before his confinement to the mental institution of Dromokaition in Daphne, where he died in 1896. The performances comprise of theatre of movement, music, dance, installations, and afterwards specially invited guest artists tell the audience about their work aiming to unveil the secrets and cultural phantoms in the urban environment.  

Full of pain are the eighty graphics by the famous Norwegian painter Edvard Munch arranged in the private museum Iraklidon within the ‘Beyond the Cry’ exhibit until February 27. It does not show the famous painting ‘The Scream’ by the Norwegian bohemian, visiting cafes where absinthe is served as aperitif before morphine. Munch possess the unique capability to diagnose - in the words of the Austrian expressionist Oskar Kokoschka – the hysterical fear behind what is called social progress. The painter of pain and death experienced the horror of personal loss yet in his infancy and was able to transform it into artistic inspiration. The idea to show his graphics in Iraklidon was conceived in 2007, when an exhibition of Toulouse Lautrec was arranged at the same museum. Although they lived at the same time, Lautrec turned to joy of life and revelries. But Munch, who had suffered a nervous breakdown, shows the darker side of life and some of his paintings bear indicative titles - "The Sick Child", "Melancholy," "Anxiety", "Vampire".  

A painting that one could not help confuse with Munch’s ‘The Scream’, however, is to be seen in the groundbreaking document exhibition titled "Cause of death: euthanasia" (21/1 to 13/3) arranged in the Benaki Museum (138 Piraeus Avenue). The exhibition was opened recently in partnership with the Hellenic Psychiatric Association. It presents 96 works from the Prinzhorn collection, painted by 18 artists with mental diseases who became victims of the Nazis' inhumane program for "treatment" by euthanasia in the period 1939-1944.  

In Nazi Germany modern art was dubbed as degenerate art and was banned as it did not correspond to ancient Greek and Roman aesthetic patterns. Significant works of art were destroyed, and artists like Otto Dix, Max Beckmann, Ernst Kirchner, Paul Klee were banished from the country. The art by those in mental institutions was also deemed degenerate. If today the works of such individuals are encouraged as a way of expression and socialization, in Nazi Germany they were a “free ticket” for their creators to the gas chambers.  

In the autumn of 1939, early in the World War II, the commission of the Third Reich for scientific record of serious hereditary and related diseases was established. It was decided to use the method of euthanasia for "treatment" of people with different defects and of mental patients. The program was called Action Τ4. It was headed by the doctors Karl Brandt and Philip Buhler, and Hitler was convinced that it would contribute to the "racial integrity of the German people." Mass executions of patients in mental institutions and asylums, also known as "Operation euthanasia", wrote a black page in the history of Germany and its victims were not only Jews.

A symposium on Art and Mental Disorders opened the exhibition in Benaki. Delivered talks ranged from destigmatizing the art of the mentally ill and isolated in asylums to an analysis of the "degenerate art" of modernism, banned by decree under Hitler (Nazi aesthetics goes hand in hand with academic naturalism as a canon of art, denying and punishing any kind of modernism in Germany – the cradle of expressionism and atonal music), the use of art as a propaganda tool of the Third Reich, the recognition of art brute as art which can be offered for sale, collections of such "marginalized" art in Europe, the link art-psychopathology, historical overview of art created by people confined in asylums for the mentally ill.

Tags: ArtsInsanityUnreasonEdvard MunchFestival in NaxosPrinzhorn
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