First published: Spring 2017
There are still sensational discoveries being made in the field of Outsider Art. One of them is the Klingebiel Cell in Göttingen, Lower Saxony, Germany. The hallway leads through barred gates to cell number 117, a dark dungeon that is 2.5 metres wide by 4 metres long (about 8 by 13 feet). Until 2013, the sun shone from the south through a high, barred window (today it is darkened for conservational purposes).
The viewer goes through phases of astonishment and irritation. All the walls are densely painted up to a height of three metres. The connoisseur is reminded of the Sixtina in the Haus der Künstler (House of the Artists) in Gugging, Germany. Indeed, August Walla’s (1936–2001) murals are in many ways similar.
The prison-like Verwahrungshaus (safe-keeping house), a high security hospital of 1906, was used until 2016 to detain mentally ill offenders. Here, one of the darkest chapters of psychiatric history was enacted. Most of the 72 patients who were interned here in 1940 were deported and gassed as part of the Nazi euthanasia operation, T4. Gustav Sievers (1865–1941) painted here too. Paul Goesch (1885–1940) created a mural in a neighbouring building in 1922. Both of these artists, who are represented in the Prinzhorn Collection, were murdered.
Cell no.117, details of the wall paintings
The occupant, Julius Klingebiel (1904–1965), created here between 1951 and 1961, constructing a complex artistic interior. He also created numerous works on paper, of which 18 are known to date. Klingebiel came from Hanover. He was a mechanic with the German army and a member of the SA (Nazi Storm troopers). If, and how strongly, he identified with the Nazi ideology is not recognisable in his work or biography. He married in 1935. In 1939 he suffered from delusions, reacted violently, and, according to the law at the time, was interned with the diagnosis schizophrenia in a mental institution. There was no criminal trial. As a “dangerous madman” he was was sent to Wunstorf mental institution.
Here, in 1940, he was compulsorily sterilised according to the Nazi’s genetic-health laws, and so became a victim of Nazi psychiatry. He was also registered for the T4 operation. He was transferred, due to rebelliousness, to the Verwahrungshaus in Göttingen. The transports to the gas chambers were rolling at the time, but Klingebiel never appeared in the transport lists. Under the directorship of Gottfried Ewald, who spoke against the Nazi operation in 1940, he was spared in now-unknown circumstances.
He also survived the war years. But in the post-war period he remained incarcerated, and in 1951 was transferred to cell 117 of the Verwahrungshaus. His internment was never approved by a judicial proceeding. Formally, this approval was legally required after 1951. His wife had legally divorced him in the year 1941, and contact with his family had ended in 1940. In permanent detention without a future, he was further deprived of his rights.
His longtime, chronic (and at that time hardly treatable) psychic problems led to excitable states, when he became angry, cried tormentedly and felt himself threatened, impaired, and influenced by radiation. He also occupied himself with expansive systems. He imagined himself to be an inventor and a sportsman. He often seemed sad and withdrawn. Finally, in 1961 he was treated with new medication and became calmer and more orderly. But he stopped painting and in 1963 was transferred to another ward. He died in 1965.
This is an article extract; read the full article in Raw Vision #93