Madness and Modernity

Madness and Modernity [German] was an exhibition at the Wien Museum (Vienna Museum). It was originally designed for the Well Come Gallery in London and the Wien Museum borrowed it for a couple of months.

The exhibition focusses on the treatment of madness and psychological illnesses at the turn of the 20th century in Vienna. It starts a little earlier than that though, since the first part of it shows the architectural design of the “Narrenturm“, meaning Fool’s Tower, the oldest psychiatric hospital in the world, which was built at the end of the 18th century. [And is a museum itself nowadays.] They also show a few of the character heads by Franz Xaver Messerschmidt, which are really interesting.

The next part focussed on the building and planning of Steinhof, a sprawling psychiatric hospital which was designed by Otto Wagner and is still in use today. It’s a complex of about 60 buildings, including a church and a theatre and is pretty spectacular in its design (especially if you like Art Nouveau), yet very practical in its execution.

From there on, the exhibition turns to the obsession of the people in the beginning of the 20th century to connect the mental problems of some people with physical appearances. It seems to have been pretty normal that people with physical illnesses were brought to psychiatric facilities and at the same time, psychological problems were recognised then that we probably wouldn’t even consider remarkable nowadays.

We also got a short look at Sigmund Freud‘s study and his rather morbid taste in art for said study.

The last two parts focussed on paintings. In the first part, we got a few of Egon Schiele‘s self-portraits and portraits of Peter Altenberg by Schiele and some other people.

The last part was art by people living in psychiatric hospitals like Josef Karl Rädler.

All in all, the exhibition was very interesting, but also rather short. We were walking rather slowly and it took us 45 minutes to see everything. I felt like the subject would have deserved a closer look but at least the shortness of the whole thing made it possible to take everything in.

I would tell you that you should check it out if you have the time, but I caught the exhibition on the last day it was shown and I’m not sure if it goes anywhere from here, or if it’s being disbanded now.

But it’s no tragedy either if you don’t catch it. It was nice, but it was not must-see.

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