the Prinzhorn Collection

The Drawing Center

It was 1920 when Hans Prinzhorn wrote to asylums in Austria, Germany, and Switzerland informing them that he intended to assemble “drawings, paintings and sculptures by the mentally ill, which are not merely copies or memories of better days, but rather expressions of their own experience of illness.” This last line summarizes how he plotted the reception of the collection that would ultimately bear his name. Under the rubric Bildnerei (image-making) rather than Kunst, the collected works were to be assigned, not to diagnoses, but to “creative urges” that were evinced by the visual output of psychotics and, Prinzhorn believed, artists too. It was this version of separate but equal that the Heidelberg psychiatrist and art historian exercised in his influential Bildnerei der Geisteskranken (1922) published in English as Artistry of the Mentally Ill. Of course, it’s a truism that the historical

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