Gerhard Dammann, a Swiss psychiatrist who, with his wife Karin, became known for his deep interest in art brut and for the comprehensive collection they assembled in this field, died on June 20, 2020, in Münsterlingen, Switzerland. He was 56 years old.
photo © Museum im Lagerhaus
Born in Oran, Algeria, Dammann studied medicine, psychology, and sociology at universities in Tübingen and Frankfurt, Germany; Basel, Switzerland; and Paris. He earned degrees in psychology and sociology. Later, he served as an assistant and as a senior physician at university-affiliated hospitals in Basel; Freiburg im Bresgau, Germany; and Strasbourg, France. He worked at the Klinikum rechts der Isar, a hospital in Munich, too. Dammann also earned degrees in psychiatry, psychotherapy, and business administration. He became a psychoanalyst and was associated with the Freud Institute in Zürich. A specialist in diagnosing personality disorders, he was an expert in borderline and narcissistic personality disorders.
As an intern at the Prinzhorn Collection in Heidelberg, Germany, Dammann became familiar with the artistic creations of psychiatric patients and their relationship to the history of art brut. Later, with his wife, he began amassing what would become one of the most substantive collections in this specialised field in Europe. A first showing of their collection took place at the Prinzhorn Collection in 2006. In 2013, its holdings were published in Wahnsinn Sammeln (Collecting Madness) (Heidelberg: Sammlung Prinzhorn), a two-volume catalogue accompanying an exhibition that opened that year at the Museum in Lagerhaus in St. Gallen, Switzerland.
Recalling Gerhard Dammann, that museum’s director, Monika Jagfeld, said, “With experience and knowledge, he moved among a wide network of collectors, art dealers, scientists, and museums. He combined his profession and his passion in an exciting way — basic human conflicts were his topic [of interest] in science and art. He saw himself in the tradition of the psychiatrist-collector.” Jagfeld noted that, today, the Dammann Collection includes more than 600 works of art, including pieces by such emblematic art brut and outsider art creators as Henry Darger, Martín Ramírez, Guo Fengyi, and Ann Zemánková. The Dammanns often focused on the works of art brut makers associated with the psychiatric history of the genre, such as Aloïse Corbaz and Adolf Wölfli.
In recent years, Dammann, who was awarded an honourary doctorate by Kahrkiv National Medical University in Ukraine in 2018, served as medical director of the Psychiatric Clinic in Münsterlingen and as hospital director of psychiatric services for the canton of Thurgau, in northeastern Switzerland. In 2014, when the Dammanns’ collection was shown in Ulm, Germany, Gerhard jokingly told a local reporter, “There are some collectors who collect more than they can really afford or hang. My wife and I may be counted among them.” Jagfeld remembers that Dammann once observed, “Art and religion are the portals that allow us to transcend.”