“ART IN/SANE: The plastic expression of psychology” expo represents the first attempt to make artworks (drawings, etching prints paintings) from different periods of time and different Romanian psychiatric institutions accessible for the general public. It is part of a larger project titled “Psychopathological Art and its place in the Cultural Heritage” which I coordinated, within the “Francisc I. Rainer” Anthropology Institute.

The project, dedicated to the Romanian psychopathological art, constitutes an applied research in the field of cultural psychiatry, with these stated objectives: 1) identifying psychopathological art collections in the Romanian psychiatric clinics and hospitals and rescuing them from deterioration; 2) studying the existent ergotherapy or art-therapy programs in psychiatric hospitals; 3) establishing a framework for a public debate in regards with the opportunity to bring plastic creation from the entombed space of the hospital to the public space; 4) organising the first debate on the importance of psychopathological art as part of the cultural, national and transnational heritage, as well as the contribution that exhibiting in art galleries and art museums open to the general public brings towards destigmatising the mentally ill, reintegrating and socially including the “mad-artists”; 5) establishing the first public exhibition with psychopathological artworks made by individuals diagnosed with various mental disorders who were admitted not only in Bucharest clinics and hospitals, but also nationwide; 6) discussing the opportunity to organize a permanent collection of psychopathological art in Romania that will be hosted by a specifically designed museum or a modern art one; 7) setting up a website devoted to this psychopathological art collection with a dedicated English section that would be accessible for both Romanian and foreign researchers in this field, interested in the study of the cultural heritage of psychiatry, or in the comparative study of psychopathological and/or aesthetic aspects of the artworks created in countries around the world.

Within this project, a round table is going to be held at the Romanian Academy, intending to bring into debate, for the first time in our country, the opportunity to free psychopathological art from its institutional constraints as many other countries have previously done before Romania.
ART“ART IN/SANE: The plastic expression of psychology”, hovering on the border between art and science, is of course aimed at specialists, but to a very large extent it is also aimed at the general public. I wish that “ART IN/SANE: The plastic expression of psychology”  will only be the first step from a series of artistic and applied research events on this richly scientifically and culturally valenced phenomena.



Worldwide, today we can talk about one hundred years of history of modern concerns regarding the systematic collecting of artworks created in psychiatric hospitals and, broadly, by individuals diagnosed with psychological disorders; even the interest of some doctors for the plastic creation of the hospitalized mentally ill has manifested itself quite recently, after the establishment of the great European psychiatric institutions in the 19th century. However, the modern history of the renowned collections begins with the 1919 Germany, by the effort made by the art historian and psychiatrist Hans Prinzhorn (1886-1933) from Heidelberg University, namely the Prinzhorn Collection, then continues with France, through the Sainte-Anne Psychiatric Hospital Collection in Paris, Switzerland, with the initiative of painter Jean Dubuffet (1901-1985), who lays the groundwork for the Lausanne Collection, and Russia, who, through the initiative of the psychiatrist Pavel I. Karpov (1873-1932), establishes a collection as well. More recently, in 1990, Australia, through the initiative of the psychiatrist doctor Eric Cunningham Dax (1908-2008), from Melbourne, lays the foundation of one of the amplest collections in the world, (Cunningham Dax Collection), and in 2015, Great Britain, through the initiative of the Bethlem Art and History Collections Trust Charitable Foundation, offers the Bethlem Museum of the Mind Collection to the general public.

In Romania hasn’t yet been set up a national collection and we don’t have a psychopathological art museum, but the ART/INSANE exhibition takes a step in this direction by putting together works created in different psychiatric hospitals (Obregia, Bălăceanca, Voila). Worth mentioning is the fact that the first artworks of the exhibition illustrated in this catalogue date from the 1960’s, when Professor Aurel Romila, back then a young doctor in the Acute Mentally Ill Ward of the Central Hospital (currently the Bucharest ”Al. Obregia” Psychiatric Hospital), was introducing a fist art-therapy programme for the patients hospitalized there. The purpose was a medical one, firstly as a therapy, and then as a diagnostics mean, and the method of interpreting was influenced by major European authors, especially by the the most powerful of heads of French school, like Henri Ey (1900-1977) or Robert Volmat (1920-1998). Art-therapy was to be continued after 1989, within the Resocializing Programme (1994-2004), through the activity and workshops carried out inside Obregia Hospital, in the „Reso” IX Clinic facility.
Furthermore, the ART/INSANE exhibition also brings an unique collection which, as well, will be exhibited for the first time in a public art gallery. It is the case of attorney Carmen Nedelcu’s collection, from 2013 to 2018. Consequently, more than 50 years of mentally ill’s plastic creation history in Romania are being covered. Different psychological sufferings are illustrated: major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, epilepsy, together with depression and suicidal episodes, etcetera.

Along with this public exhibiting of representative works of the „art of the insane” genre, are explicitly called into question some of the biggest topics of the contemporaneous cultural psychiatry. The “ART IN/SANE: The plastic expression of psychology” exhibition, as well as the academic debate it visually supports, thus contributes to raising awareness of the great public eye about worldwide extremely important and present topics as the shunning of the mental patient, a stigma that still accompanies the severe mental illness diagnostics (psychopathy, psychosis, dementia), the creational status of the mentally ill, but also his right to be respected for his or her artwork, the impact of his or her culture on the psychiatric disorders and the supposedly „acultural” status of the psychopathological plastic expression, etcetera. I believe the ART/INSANE exhibition represents an essential component of the anthropological advocacy for humanising the present-day psychiatry, increasingly criticised for its dehumanising and reductionist aspects, dominated by a theoretical model that some authors call „paradigm shift”.

Given the fact that most of the programmes financially enabling the hospital workshops, including the art-therapy ones, were discontinued, many of the artworks were left abandoned, whether on hallways, or in dusty storerooms, the most fortunate of which being saved by being exhibited in the psychiatrists’ offices. Thereby, in order to be of a satisfactory quality, many of the artworks went through a minimal restoration process, yet without intervening in any way in the disordered-authors artwork.

I cannot close this brief presentation of the collections without addressing a word of gratitude to the hospitals’ managers who contributed with artworks to this first Romanian psychopathological art exhibition, as well as to Professor Aurel Romila and Mrs. Carmen Nedelcu. All the above-mentioned responded with great enthusiasm and openness to my requests to exhibit in a public space psychopathological artworks whose life would have ended entirely different, in a sad way, between the covers of a lost drawing pad or in a Godforsaken closet. To all of them I am deeply grateful.

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