Monday, March 19, 2012

Adolf Wölfli is off the grid

Caught the Adolf Wölfli exhibition at the Stone Bell yesterday. Overwhelming is the right word. Finally though.

There are plenty of places to read about the troubled life of Adolf Wölfli if you'd like. There's also a really good Czech site about the exhibition. In short, he made thousands of drawings and filled something like 40 books with writing and music notation during his lifelong residence at a mental asylum in Bern, Switzerland.

His pictures combine drawing with text and musical notation. The number of pictures, the detail in each, the time it must have taken, the mix of poetry with music with drawing - all on show here - are pretty impressive.

Kudos to the exhibition people that a lot of this music is actually available to listen to here. But it's a bummer that with all the writing in pictures that there's no translation beyond the titles of the pieces. The text is in German as far as I can tell. Occasionally there's a taste of his writing in one of his quotes up on the walls
"I can rock the whale, the whale rides it."
which is great. I just wish there were more translations since there is so much text in each picture. According to the exhibition, he was writing a semi-autobiographical 45-volume epic inside these pictures. Thankfully, throughout the exhibition you get bits of information about him from hospital reports and from things he said in correspondence, like this gem which reminds me of Walt Whitman:
"Adolf Wölfli, naturalist, poet, writer, draughtsman, composer, farm labourer, milker, handy-man, gardener, plasterer, cement-layer, rail worker, day-labourer, knife-grinder, fisher, boatman, hunter, migrant worker, grave-digger, and soldier of the Emmenthal Battalion, 3rd Company, 3rd Section. Alright!"

Adolf Wölfli, self description 
Not everybody will love the exhibition. The pictures and colors are dim, which may be his fault for using colored pencils and not paints. But he was in a mental asylum at the time. In addition, there are a lot of pictures. Maybe too many. It's a bit overwhelming to go through them all at once, but it does encourage repeat visits.

Adolf Wölfli until May 27, 2012 at City Gallery Prague - The Stone Bell
Staroměstské Nám. 13, Praha 1  
Open daily 10 a.m to 8 p.m. except Mondays
120 czk