Friday, 3 April 2009

Madness and Modernity: Mental illness and the visual arts in Vienna 1900

Vienna 1900 was a time of great artistic efflorescence... When artists, writers and the likes would meet at coffeehouses to discuss all that was modern, from art and politics to medicine and social change.

It is in this period that Freud published his first writings on psychoanalysis in Vienna. The Wellcome Collection has brought Vienna 1900 to life with a display of architecture and visual art produced in this exceptional age. The exhibition begins with a film of 'The Tower of Fools' (a purpose built institution for 'dangerous lunatics') which brings to life the reality of medecine and madness in 18th - 19th Century Vienna. Its exploration of the geometric precise building, past skeleton cases and locked doors, is soundtracked by echoing footsteps that chase you through the empty corridors. By highlighting the thought behind developments to mental hospitals of physical beauty and Freud's infamous consulting room this history of medecine really explores the changing perception of the insane and their cure.

The fine line between mental illness and artist is ever present, from Franz-Xaver Messerschmidt's series of grimacing heads - it is believed by some to be self portraiture of his different personalities - to the pathological art exemplified in Egon Schiele's persistent scrutiny of face and body. Much visual art depicted the idyosyncracies and characteristics of indiviudals suffering from mental illness with twitching faces and withered bodies. Such portraits of the mentally ill registered it as a modern condition and highlights the mutual relationship between mental illness and the arts.

This exhibition is showing @ The Wellcome Collection until 28th June but there is also Bobby Baker's Diary Drawings: Mental Illness on show until August and a campaigning workshop is being held on Saturday 18th April.

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