Outsider Art Fair
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Oswald Tschirtner

Austrian, 20th century.
Born 1920, Perchtoldsdorf, Austria; died 2007, Gugging, Austria.


Oswald Tschirtner’s, spare draftsmanship sets him apart from the abundant, expressionistic sensibility most commonly associated with artwork produced by psychiatric patients living and working in the House of Artists at the Maria Gugging Psychiatric Clinic, located on the outskirts of Vienna. The linear figures that haunt his drawings could almost be mistaken for ciphers written in code. It is not surprising that Tschirtner, also known as O.T., collaborated with the schizophrenic poet Ernst Herbeck, his asylum mate at Gugging, and developed an extensive literary following as a result of the free exchange between patients and visitors facilitated by the House of Artists. 

Born in 1920 in Austria, Tschirtner entered seminary at age ten, a pursuit that was interrupted by the start of World War II. He was drafted into the German army during the war, and spent time in a POW camp in France. Tschirtner was first committed to a psychiatric hospital in 1946, transferred in 1954* to the Gugging Regional Psychiatric and Neurological Clinic, and admitted to the House of Artists, when it opened in 1981. 

Although capable of drawing portrait likenesses, Tschirtner developed an increasingly minimal way of notating the human figure in which anatomy is reduced to a head perched on spindly, attenuated legs. His mode of reducing the visible world to graphic shorthand can be seen in his renderings of objects and landscapes, an activity that for the artist was not unlike the act of translation. Scholars have identified his minimal sensibility as an aptly ascetical manifestation of his quiet, humble spirituality. While Tschirtner’s abstractive figures and his play with repetition have been likened to moments in early modernism and postminimalism, he was a true Outsider, working without any concern for art historical agendas. His work continues to gain notoriety well after his passing in 2007.

Jenifer P. Borum


Selected Solo Exhibition

1980, Oswald Tschirtner, MUMOK: Museum moderner Kunst, Vienna 

Selected Group Exhibitions

2006, Inner Worlds Outside, traveling exhibition, Sala de Exposiciones de la Fundacíon "La Caixa," Madrid; WhiteChapel Gallery, London; Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin

1980, São Paulo Art Biennale XVI, Brazil 

1979, Outsiders, Hayward Gallery, London

Selected Collections

Collection abcd, Paris
Collection de l'Art Brut, Lausanne
Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin
Musgrave Kinley Outsider Art Collection
Museum of Modern Art, New York
Setagaya Art Museum, Tokyo

Selected Bibliography

Feilacher, Johann, and Oswald Tschirtner, Das rote Zebra, Christian Brandstätter Verlag, Vienna, 2007.

Inner Worlds Outside, exhibition catalogue, Fundacíon "La Caixa," WhiteChapel Gallery, Irish Museum of Modern Art & Ediciones El Viso, Madrid, 2006.

"Oswald Tschirtner," Raw Vision, #11, Spring 1995.

Navratil, Leo, Die Kunstler Aus Gugging, Medusa, Berlin, 1983.

Navratil, Leo, Dieter Ronte, and Oswald Tschirtner, Oswald Tschirtner, exhibition catalogue, Museum moderner Kunst Wien, Vienna, 1980.

Feilacher, Johann, Menschen Mit Heiligenschein, Wienand Verlag, Vienna, 1997.
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