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The Art of Adolf Wolfli: St. Adolf-Giant-Creation

Spoerri, Elka; Gomez, Edward M.; Milwaukee Art Museum; Wolfli, Adolf; Baumann, Daniel; American Folk Art Museum

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ISBN 10: 0691114986 / ISBN 13: 9780691114989
Published by Princeton, NJ, 2003
New Condition: New Hardcover
From Penobscot Books (Searsport, ME, U.S.A.)

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Bibliographic Details

Title: The Art of Adolf Wolfli: St. ...

Publisher: Princeton, NJ

Publication Date: 2003

Binding: Cloth Hardcover

Book Condition:New

Dust Jacket Condition: New

About this title


Despite being institutionalized for schizophrenia at age thirty-one, Adolf Wölfli (1864-1930) achieved artistic greatness in his cell at Waldau Mental Asylum near his native Bern, Switzerland. He has had a profound influence on modern art ever since; André Breton described his work as "one of the three or four most important oeuvres of the twentieth century." The Art of Adolf Wölfli offers a fresh vantage point on the artist's remarkably intricate drawings and astonishing collages, as well as his newly translated writings, which are justly celebrated for their dizzying blend of mythology and humor. Also included are illuminating essays by leading specialists on his art and life.

Wölfli's youth was one of deprivation. His alcoholic father ran off when Wölfli was five, and his mother died soon after. Despite these travails, he managed to complete his education, acquiring the sophisticated literacy so evident in his later work. However, beginning at age twenty-six, his repeated attempts to molest young girls landed him first in jail and, in 1894, in the asylum. Though violent at first, by 1899 he calmed down--and began to draw.

Working primarily in pencil on newsprint, Wölfli created a dense, stunningly detailed medley of wildly imaginative prose texts interwoven with poems, musical compositions, color illustrations, and collages. His five-part magnum opus, "St. Adolf-Giant-Creation," comprises 45 large volumes and 16 notebooks--25,000 pages in all--containing 1,620 drawings and 1,640 collages.

Sure to be the authoritative resource for this remarkable oeuvre, this striking book represents compelling testimony that great torment does not preclude great art.


American Folk Art Museum, New York

February 25 - May 18, 2003

Milwaukee Art Museum

September 18 - December 12, 2004


In his day (1864-1930) and after, the Swiss mental patient and self-taught artist Adolf Wolfli inspired some heavy-hitter patrons: Andre Breton, Jean Dubuffet, Meret Oppenheim, Jonathan Borovsky. But most esthetes encountering him today will do so with the later, now more-famous outsider artist Henry Darger in mind. Like Darger, Wolfli sought to tame his pedophilic madness by organizing it into an incredibly elaborate art exploring what Darger called "the realms of the unreal," where a mind incapable of coping with the real world could construct and rigidly control a world of infinite beauty and sights denied all ordinary mortals.

Wolfli was technically superior to Darger, though his collages clipped from magazines (often the Illustrated London News) were not so central to his imagination as the clip-and-trace fantasy battles of little girls that obsessed Darger. In fact, Wolfli was strikingly diverse in his imagery, echoing by turns San Francisco psychedelia, Northwest Coast native-American art, folk art from all over the planet, Bauhaus or Constructivist typographical experiments, and William Blake visions. What windstorms were to Darger, waterfalls were to Wolfli: symbols of the uncontrollable passions that drove through him.

Wolfli conceived of himself as a multimedia artist in a way only a schizophrenic could imagine: his drawings were also musical compositions, images and letters imbued with sounds, and time reconceived as a unit of space. I find Wolfli's imagination less vast than Darger's, and less numbingly repetitive. His narratives are slightly more intelligible: it's all about a Wolfli character's epic journey from poverty and brutal oppression (no fantasy) to apotheosis in the "St. Adolf-Giant-Creation," a realm so immense he ran out of numbers to describe it and was forced to invent 23 new numerals beyond quadrillion, ending with the biggest number of all, Zorn (German for "rage"). This eye-opening book could make Wolfli all the rage, but it can't hope to contain his imagination. --Tim Appelo

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