First published: Spring 1997
Up close, with the awesome achievement of Adolf Wölfli's text- and- drawing- and- poetry-and-music-filled books lying open before one's eyes, their rich tumult of wild imaginings and dazzling graphics more vivid than any reproduction could ever convey, the moment is a staggering one. For here, on page 8354 of what archivists have designated, in German, as Mappe 49, or the forty-ninth storage portfolio containing the last of the big bound volumes comprising Wolfli's multi-part Gesamtkunstwerk, the enigmatic farmboy-turned-artist, composer and author makes his final marks on paper.
They are the indecipherable words and numerals 'Brida. 16. Chehr: 1. Chrummah. 16. Chehr: 1. Stiiiga,' part of what their author called a song in this hand-stitched, unfinished Heft, or book, of The Funeral March, the last major series in his multi-volume magnum opus. With this phrase, written in plain pencil on newsprint, Wölfli's sprawling, sumptuous artistic production comes to a sudden close, like a road or railway track that abruptly ends. The sensation is all the more daunting considering the prolific outpouring that had preceded this precipitous conclusion, including nearly 25,000 pages in Wölfli's 45 books (with their 1,600 illustrations and 1,500 collages), plus an estimated 900 single-sheet drawings.