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Meditations on the Prinzhorn collection of the art of the mentally ill, on display at the Smart Gallery, Chicago, April 1985.

Graduate students calmly take notes On the exuberant drawings, Sculptures, paintings, and textiles Of the irremediably insane.

Pohl draws his own head At awkward angles, Eyes bulging with the fear and anger That the rest of us try to hide.

Neter's landscape transforms itself Into a witch's head, The mother/wife/daughter That he could never control.

Karl Brendel sculpts wooden men Reduced to head, legs, and phallus By their mechanized lives.

"Little is known about the women patients," The exhibiters helpfully inform us. Even Prinzhorn's 400-page monograph Merely classifies the women's artwork. They lack the professional credentials Of the male artisans.

Men portray themselves standing On a woman's crotch. But Elisabeth F.'s pencil captures A circle of chatting women, Some collapsing.

While a male patient fancies himself the Kaiser, Else Blankenhorn paints imaginary money To finance the resurrection of the dead.

Johanna Nathalie Wintsch embroiders a colorful sampler, Imposing decorative order On a Nazi world gone mad.

According to the catalog published for the travelling exhibition of these artworks (1984-5), they were made between the end of the 19th century and 1933 by persons, presumably adults, who had been institutionalized and were considered at that time to be insane. The collection was first brought together in Germany in the 1920s, and later augmented in the 1930s.

JANET RUTH HELLER is Assistant Professor of English at Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Michigan.
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Author:Heller, Janet Ruth
Publication:Judaism: A Quarterly Journal of Jewish Life and Thought
Date:Sep 22, 1992
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