Activities to be conducted under the project:

1. Roundtable with the theme “Psychopathological Art – a Constituent of the National and Transnational Cultural Heritage”. Organizer: “Francisc I. Rainer” Anthropology Institute of the Romanian Academy and the Medical Sciences Department within the Bucharest Romanian Academy. The event will take place on the 5th of June 2019, between the hours of 11 AM and 01PM and it will be hosted by the Romanian Academy (Council Room).
2. Psychopathological Art Exhibition “ART IN/SANE: The plastic expression of psychology” – . The exhibition will have its opening on the 5th of June 2019 and it will be hosted during the 5th and the 30th of June by the Library of the Romanian Academy (Dome Room). The exhibition is organized by the Bucharest City Hall’s “Expo Arte” Cultural Center in partnership with the “Francisc I. Rainer” Anthropology Institute of the Romanian Academy and the Romanian Academy.

ROUNDTABLE – General Outline

Historical Background. One hundred years ago, Hans Prinzhorn, psychiatrist and art historian, established within the Heidelberg University, the first worldwide psychopathological art collection, thus becoming a source of inspiration, not only for several generations of doctors and researchers from the mental health field, but also for a generation of European plastic artists. A quarter of a century later, in France, the painter Jean Dubuffet put together a similar collection in Paris, proposing a new term, “art brut” (raw art), for what he was considering to be a special art category, completely neglected by the mainstream academic world, but also by the general public, namely the art of self-taught artists, outsiders, uninfluenced by theoretical movements, schools or trends in the plastic art world. Many of these works were made by individuals diagnosed with mental disorders who were institutionalized in the biggest asylums and mental hospitals in France. In 1972, the British art critic Roger Cardinal suggested that Dubuffet’s “art brut” term should be translated to English to “outsider art,” defined as the entirety of original works created by talented individuals, untrained in the fine arts field, who give their works a strong individual character. In his turn, the Canadian art historian David Davies calls into question the status of the plastic works of art from this category, asking if objects of this type can be viewed as art, and then, if their status of works of art is recognized, if they could be differentiated in valuable and less valuable.
In the decades that followed, outsider art category works, including here those that came from psychiatric institutions, transcended the boundaries of these institutions and have been exhibited in contemporary art galleries, and then, as part as great museums’ contemporary art collections. Some psychopathological art museums remained associated with the great clinics where they were born, as in the case of the Heidelberg University Museum or the museum hosted by the Sainte Anne Hospital Psychiatry Ward from Paris. Meanwhile, the collections of these museums grew incredibly, professional curators were hired and devoted websites were launched, offering the possibility to see online, in digital format, significant parts of the collections. This way, the profile of these museums grew surprisingly much, some of them becoming national museums. For example, Musée d’Art et d’Histoire de l’Hôpital Sainte-Anne (MAHHSA) – Saint-Anne Hospital’s Museum of Art and History, that recently was named Musée de France – National Museum of France.

In Romania, although the Ergotherapy programs were introduced in psychiatry even from its beginnings, in the 1850’s, drawing and art therapy was still unknown until its experimental introduction in the acutely ill ward of the Central Hospital, by the psychiatrist Aurel Romila in 1966. Stunned by the positive effects he noticed in his patients, Romila will have laid the groundwork of a systematic therapy program through plastic arts which have led to amassing an impressive collection. At the end of the 1960’s, this collection included 5777 drawings and 353 oil paintings. A part of it became the empiric foundation of his doctoral dissertation titled “Contributions to the Study of the Mentally Ill Patients’ Artistic Expression”, held at the Bucharest Medicine and Pharmacy Institute, in 1970. Subsequently, Romila developed an original concept of social psychiatry named “Resocialization”, in which art-therapy was held in high regards. Using the blueprints he himself designed, a new clinic was built inside the Central Hospital (currently the “Al. Obregia Psychiatric Hospital) named “Reso” IX Clinic. In here, the committed patients had access to material means in order to be able to graphically express themselves through a multitude of techniques and a large number of mediums. Thus, the Romila collection came to consist of several thousands of paintings and drawings. The art-therapy project was abruptly interrupted in 1999, because of doctor Romila’s retirement, and, starting with 2004 the ward was completely transformed, when the 40 year long social psychiatric program came to an end.

Another pioneer that is worth mentioning is Doctor Constantin Enăchescu, medic and renowned psychologist. He had worked for a few decades at the Bucharest Central Hospital, where he conducted a series of studies regarding the artistic expression in mental ailments. Starting from the mid 1960’s, he published a series of articles, book chapters, and several books about psychopathological art. His last work on this subject is “Art and Insanity the Plastic Universe of the Irrational” (NOI Media Print, 2007). This book is richly illustrated, having more than 400 images that capture the hugely varied expressivity in the mental pathology.
During the 1970’s and the 1980’s, in several psychiatric hospitals from all over the country, ergotherapy programs were started, some involving art-therapy workshops, leading to the amassing of a treasure trove of psychopathological art collections by some institutions, which, unfortunately, are largely lost today. It must be mentioned that these plastic works were never granted the status of artworks, and thus, they hadn’t been inventoried nor archived, so they weren’t intended to be stored, adequately preserved or reconditioned. Never mind being publicly exhibited… And when this managed to happen, it only took place in the offices of the doctors who were treating those patients, on the hospitals’ hallways or in the waiting rooms. Unlike other countries that acknowledged the importance of this type of art and used the patients’ plastic expression to call into question large-scale topics like the status of the mentally ill patient, the stigma that comes along with the mental disorder diagnosis, the status of the marginal plastic works, the Western psychiatry contribution to the tangible and non-tangible cultural heritage, in Romania, these topics were completely ignored to this day.

Personal motivation – 25 years ago, as many other students, I studied Psychiatry at the Medicine Faculty of Bucharest with Professor Aurel Romila, who was, at that time, the Head of one of the two Departments of Adult Psychiatry. That traineeship from my student years has acquainted me with the program of “Resocialization of Mental Patients”, and it was also back then when I visited for the first time the art-therapy workshops, where I was able to see patients drawing and painting. On the walls of the “Reso” IX Clinic numerous works were displayed, made by the hospitalized patients over time. As a doctoral student of Professor Romila’s, I was then initiated in the psychopathological and psychiatric concept of Henri Ey (1900-1977), also called “The Pope of French Psychiatry”, a true titan of the European Psychiatry after the Second World War. It was only then when I understood how much Romila was influenced by Henri Ey’s theoretical Organo-dynamic Conception even in his youth, and how much Ey’s stance on psychopathological art mattered for the Romanian psychiatrist.
Several years ago, in my capacity as a reviewer for a prestigious cultural psychiatry magazine, titled Transcultural Psychiatry, I was invited to appraise the article of an American medical anthropologist who made field search in Romania and who evoked the past of psychiatry, in Bucharest, in the communist age. I was astounded to read that, in the author’s opinion, there had never been any social psychiatric program in Romania at large, and especially in Bucharest, during those years. I realized that the ones who dealt with the history of Romanian psychiatry hadn’t had written anything at that time about this subject, and therefore, there were literally no academic resources to be cited and to describe with objectivity what had in truth happened in the medical community of that time. This gap in the history of medicine’s literature is what drove me to write a chapter on the theme of using work and other forms of hobbies in psychiatry in a volume edited in Great Britain, and then to devote a study to Romila’s contribution to developing social psychiatry in Romania.

In the article about the resocializing program, I’ve also mentioned the existence of a psychopathological art collection started in the 1960’s by Romila, but I didn’t truly enlarge upon the subject, for I was going to come back to it in another work. The opportunity didn’t seize to show itself, in the spring of 2018, when I found out that at the University of Göteborg (Sweden), an international conference about the cultural heritage that is left after the 200 years of psychiatry was going to take place. One of the topics to be brought into discussion was that of psychopathological art, questioning if the artwork created by the mental patients could be thought as a part of the material cultural heritage.
Inspired by this very ample topic, I decided to bring a personal contribution by taking part with a scientific work having as subject the amassing of the Obregia Hospital psychopathological art collection, in Bucharest, by Aurel Romila, as well as placing a spotlight on the positive role played by the entire resocialization project between 1966 and 2004.


With the occasion of the Göteborg Conference, a psychopathological art exhibition will also be opened in an art gallery located in the heart of the city. This particular fact made me think that beyond the academic contribution, I can do much more to promote Romania at an international level. I wanted to put together a similar exhibition, showcasing artworks created by people diagnosed with mental disorders. But from wanting to coming to fruition, sometimes there’s a dizzying distance, so I decided I will need a well thought-out action plan. I was aware that such a pioneering project could not be easy to implement, and even less so just by myself. Thusly, I’ve assembled a work team and I’ve applied for a public grant in order to financially support my initial idea to organize a similar exhibition in Bucharest, psychopathological art themed. Bearing in mind that such a topic hadn’t been dealt with by the Romanian academic society, neither by psychiatrists, nor by historians and art critics, I intended to arrange a first debate at the Romanian Academy, the highest scientific forum in our country, regarding the opportunity to bring into the public space the plastic works of the people diagnosed with mental disorders who were or still are committed to psychiatric hospitals in Romania. This debate to which scientific researchers, university professors and practitioners in the field of psychiatry, psychology, psychotherapy, but also historians and art critics are invited to partake will hopefully mark a turning point in the history of medical and psychological sciences, but also of plastic arts. On one hand, the significance of the psychopathological art heritage amassed for decades by pioneers like Aurel Romila or Constantin Enăchescu will be discussed. On the other hand, the circumstances in which art-therapy almost completely vanished from the big specialized public hospitals and the causes for reinventing art-therapy as private services in hospitals and psychiatric and psychological individual offices will be analyzed. Also, the role art-therapy can have in re-humanizing hospital psychiatry, as well as overcoming the reductionist-biologist tendencies of the contemporaneous biologist psychiatry will be analyzed. The opportunities the new generations of psychotherapists schooled either in the western countries, or under the supervision of some trainers coming from art-therapy European centers will be put forward for discussion.

To what extent this generation could acquire access to patients from big hospitals, as well as communitarian psychiatry public programs, is also a subject of great interest. Another topic worth being discussed is the opportunity to have a psychopathological art museum in Bucharest, same as other big world capitals have, or to include the existing collections in the modern or contemporary art museums’ collections. Taking psychopathological artworks out of the institutional space can lead to the most positive results in Romania, as well as in other countries. Among these results, I would mention the contribution which exhibiting to the general audience, alongside modern works of art created by well-established professional authors can have in order to reduce the stigma of the mental disordered patient and to better position psychiatry among medical fields in the publics’ eye. For the first time, a question arises: Are we not somehow destitute, culturally speaking, if we continue to ignore the plastic artworks of those more troubled and more marginalized than us, the citizens of this European nation?

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