First published: Fall 2016
Adding further weight to the groaning shelf of publications issued in recent years by the Gugging ‘House of the Artists’, there now appears a festive homage to Johann Hauser (1926–1996), often seen as the star of the original Gugging group. As artistic director of the Gugging project, Dr Johann Feilacher has masterminded an exciting volume: Johann Hauser. . . I am the artist! It weighs five kilos and runs to 516 pages, with 535 illustrations. It represents the catalogue of the Hauser retrospective, which runs at the Gugging Museum till January 8, 2017.
Woman with Headdress, 1984, 15.7 x 11.8 ins. / 40 x 30.1 cm, pencil and coloured pencil, Essl Museum Klosterneuburg
Born in Bratislava, Slovakia, in 1926, Johann Hauser knew no father and was maltreated throughout his childhood, living with his mother in a resettlement camp in war-torn Austria until, in 1946, he was officially diagnosed as mentally deficient and designated a ward of the state. In 1949, he entered a mental institution at Klosterneuburg, near Vienna in Lower Austria. (The same institution would later adopt the name of the nearby village of Maria Gugging). The 22-year-old was assigned to a ward for male patients, mostly diagnosed as schizophrenic; luckily, this distinctive social group was the responsibility of an unusual psychiatrist, Dr Leo Navratil.
In 1951–52, Navratil had spent time at the Maudsley Hospital in London, where he’d been intrigued by Personality Projection in the Drawing of the Human Figure, a book by a psychologist named Karen Machover. Back in Austria, he drew upon this example, introducing an experimental régime whereby each of his charges was encouraged to make drawings, usually of human figures. Aiming for material suitable for scientific analysis and insight, Navratil devised a formal daily routine, reserving work-tables and providing pencils, ink, colour crayons and felt-tip pens, and, in due course, high-quality paper.