Outsider Art Fair
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Karl Genzel

German, 19th century.
Born 1871, Germany; died 1925.

Karl Genzel is one of the "Ten Schizophrenics" whose life and work was presented in an extensive monograph by Hans Prinzorn in his book Artistry of the Mentally Ill (1922). Prinzhorn assigned the protective pseudonym Karl Brendel, by which he became known to German Expressionists and French Surrealists, who emulated his uniquely abstracted, carved figures. 

Born in the German state of Thuringia in 1871, Genzel worked as a bricklayer, plasterer, and moulder. His relatively peaceful married life was interrupted by a series of prison terms for increasingly violent behavior, and a partial amputation of one of his legs. He showed increasing signs of mental illness, and was hospitalized in 1906 for schizophrenia. 

Dr. Prinzhorn recorded Genzel's delusions to be religious in nature, and kept extensive records of his fragmented writings, and artistic production in the asylum. While Genzel had done some wood carvings for his children before the onset of his illness, his true Outsider production began when he started to mould obscene shapes from chewed bread in 1912. He soon began to carve animal figures in wood, and increasingly inventive forms, often with religious overtones. Focused on the figure of Jesus Christ, Genzel forged a visionary mode of figuration that included  hermaphroditism, and variations on the convention of the crucifix that evolved into  creatures with giant heads supported by stork-like legs. Genzel's facility for abstracting the human figure was recognized by Paul Klee, who imitated and refined his compositions, a modernist homage to the raw power of his Outsider muse.

- Jenifer P. Borum 


Selected Exhibitions

1996, Beyond Reason: Art and Psychosis, Works from the Prinzhorn Collection, Hayward Gallery, London

1992, Parallel Visions: Modern Artists and Outsider Art, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles

Selected Collections

Collection de l'Art Brut, Lausanne
Prinzhorn Collection, University of Heidelberg, Baden-Württemberg

Selected Bibliography

Busine, Laurent, Bettina Brand-Claussen and Caroline Douglas, Beyond Reason: Art and Psychosis, Works from the Prinzhorn Collection, exhibition catalogue, Hayward Gallery, London, 1996.

Cardinal, Roger, et al., Parallel Visions: Modern Artists and Outsider Art, exhibition catalogue, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, 1992.

Cardinal, Roger, Outsider Art, Praeger, New York, 1972.

Prinzhorn, Hans, Artistry of the Mentally Ill: A Contribution to the Psychology and Psychopathology of Configuration, Springer, New York, 1972.

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