In 1994, the Austrian artist André Heller invited David Bowie and Brian Eno to his home country in order to spend a day in the town of Klosterneuburg, which is based on the northern edge of Vienna and made a visit to the Maria Gugging Psychiatric Clinic.
The visit to the clinic became one of the main inspirations for Bowie’s 1995 album Outside.
Luckily Heller also invited his friend, Austrian photographer Christine de Grancy who captured the encounter but for some reason, she resisted from developing the photographs until about a year ago, on the occasion of Heller’s 70th birthday. Forty-four splendid photographs of that intriguing day are currently on display in the Crone Galerie in Vienna.
During World War II, Gugging was the site of the Nazi-sanctioned murder of hundreds of mentally ill patients. In the late 1950s, a psychiatrist named Leo Navratil chose Gugging to be the site of his project involving the exposure of the artistic process to mental patients as a form of therapy. Rather than hide the patients or shut them down with medication, Navratil felt that the artistic process might have beneficial effects on even schizophrenic patients. Over time, he did discover that some of his patients had genuine artistic talent, and Gugging became linked with the artistic movement started by Jean Dubuffet known as Art Brut.
Bowie himself had a close link to schizophrenics due to his stepbrother, Terry Burns, suffering from the condition before committing suicide in early 1985 by permitting himself to be run over by a train at the Coulsdon South train station near London. Eight years after Burns’ death, on Black Tie White Noise, Bowie released “Jump They Say,” which was an even more explicit treatment of the subject: Bowie told the NME that the song was “semi-based on my impression of my stepbrother.”
Bowie and Eno spent three hours at Gugging, and de Grancy didn’t even take out her camera until an hour had passed, preferring instead to take the temperature of the moment. De Grancy’s hesitancy in this regard demonstrates something that is quite unusual, which is that these pictures show a Bowie that is about as private as you are likely to find anywhere. Bowie was present not as a rock star but in his role as a working artist and a private individual—who nine years earlier had lost a close relative to schizophrenia. Bowie was consumed with observing the inmates, none of whom had the slightest clue who he was and gave him anonymity.
Check out some of the photos below.