A Tardis Through Tartu: Exploring The Mind’s Eye

A Tardis Through Tartu: Exploring The Mind’s Eye
The Tartmus is a state-owned museum of art located in Tartu, Estonia. It was founded in 1940 via a private initiative by members of the local Pallas art school. This summer, art collected by the psychiatrist Hans Prinzhorn was placed in dialogue with contemporary pieces from the Kondas Centre, focusing on the power of ‘outsider art’ in surveying our inner eye.


If You Could Understand Something From The Sleep You Had?

Germany’s Prinzhorn Museum contains one of the largest collections of art made by psychiatric patients – works created around the start of the 20th century, before contemporary psychopharmacological drugs became a mainstay.

For the first time in Estonia, the Tartmus exhibition If You Could Understand Something From The Sleep You Had? shared these pieces alongside contemporary ‘outsider art’, highlighting congruity within the history of psychiatry and the history of art, as well as between works from Tartu and Heidelberg.

The founder of scientific psychiatry, Professor Emil Kraepelin (1856 – 1926), also established the laboratory of experimental psychology at the University of Tartu. He worked from 1886 – 1891 at the University of Tartu and from 1891 – 1903 at Heidelberg University. In both cities he was the head of the university’s psychiatric hospital, and was one of the first to examine and preserve drawings made by patients as part of their case histories.

Based on these connections, the curators of the exhibition selected from the oldest, Kraepelin-era parts of the Prinzhorn collection – some of the exhibited works had never before been lent out by the Heidelberg museum. These were displayed next to a selection of pieces from the archives in Tartu, corresponding to the dates that Kraepelin was active at the University there.

Attitudes towards such acts of self-expression, seemingly free from self-consciousness, have been contradictory throughout history. They have positively influenced and inspired the wider art world: with theories of expressionism sharing the spotlight with art made in asylums, and the 1922 book The Artistry of the Mentally Ill by Hans Prinzhorn, resonating with the raw spontaneity found in past and present avant-garde circles.

However totalitarian regimes took a different view, and the Nazi party declared such pieces ‘Entartete Kunst‘ or ‘Degenerate Art’, calling it un-German, Freemasonic, Jewish, or Communist in nature. Its seemingly universal alchemical symbolism was used as evidence of the pathological qualities inherent in modern or avant-garde art, and considered to be a manifestation of psychiatric degeneration.

Whether viewed through a psychiatric or artistic lens, art created in treatment facilities has maintained its distinctive position. Heartwarming, heartbreaking, subversive, entertaining, honest and fabricated all at once – this exhibition enabled us to look inside from the outside – using ‘outsider art’ to reframe where we draw the boundaries between breaking down and breaking through, between independent imaginations and shared realities, and through the developments and repercussions that have taken place across eras and borders.


Dreaming Up The Tartmus

The Tartmus or Tartu Art Museum is the largest art museum in Southern Estonia, and its main collection consists of works by local and foreign artists from the 18th century to the present.

In 1918 the artistic association Pallas established the Higher Art School Pallas which later played a key role in local art education. Twenty years after the formation of the Pallas association, they successfully established a museum with the Municipality of Tartu.

During the war the museum had to be relocated a number of times, and despite being bombed in 1943, the majority of the collection has been preserved. In total the museum today has around 23,000 works of art, and is still unafraid to court controversy and debate.

Some of its most widely contested exhibitions have included MÖH? FUI! ÖÄK! OSSA! VAU! in 2012, exhibiting the ‘most scandalous’ works of Estonian art since the 1990s, and My Poland. On Recalling and Forgetting in 2015, exhibiting modern Polish art about the Holocaust.

Today the Tartmus is located in the ‘crooked house‘ in Tartu’s Town Hall Square. The house is slanted by 5.8 degrees due to the marshy banks of the Emajõgi River – making it more tilted than the leaning Tower of Pisa.