Scheidegger and Spiess, August, 2016, 200 p. ill. ISBN 9783858815101 (pbk), $40.00.
In Annelie Lütgen’s introduction to this exhibition catalog, she defines visions as “individual forms of experience that extend beyond the rationally possible.” Building upon recent work in art history that has reexamined the influence of “irrational” currents (such as Theosophy) on the development of modernism and abstraction, the visions of lesser-known but highly inventive German artists are the focus here. The first, Paul Scheerbart, most famous as an author who wrote a kind of proto-fantasy literature, is included for his delightfully grotesque drawings and his literary explorations of fantastical architecture. Toward the end of his career, he corresponded with the architect Bruno Taut on ideas about visionary architecture, particularly utopian forms of architecture in glass. Taut in turn lead a correspondence of like-minded colleagues in visionary architecture called the “Crystal Chain,” and published extensively in architectural journals about his theoretical ideas. Part of this group was Paul Goesch, whom Bruno Taut championed in his essays. Goesch suffered throughout his life from mental illnesses and often was hospitalized, leaving him unable to practice his training in architecture, but he prolifically produced fantastical drawings and had occasional commissions for architectural murals.
Though these three figures are united in “their simultaneous thinking about realizable and unrealizable ideas, and their refusal to acknowledge any separation between these two worlds of thought,” it seems forced to cram their visionary work all in one single exhibition catalog. At times, it feels that Scheerbart and Taut are given top billing to give legitimacy to Goesch, whose artistic practice has often been viewed by scholars more as a curiosity than a significant body of work, with the terms “outsider art” and “art brut” applied pejoratively. However, Goesch’s career, his uncategorizable work, and his critical reception are fascinating subjects in themselves. Sabine Hohnholz’s essay of Hans Prinzhorn, a psychiatrist with an art history background who studied and collected the work of art by patients suffering from mental illnesses, gave deeper insight into the work of Goesch and its reception than explorations in other essays of his more tenuous connection to Scheerbart.
This book is ultimately important for giving space (even if it is somewhat crowded) to these artists and architects who had unique voices but have been left out of the German modernist canon of artists from Expressionism to the Bauhaus. It would be at home in any academic or museum library that collects works on early European modernism, visionary architecture, and outsider art.