For Immediate Release
February 14, 2023
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Portals: The Visionary Architecture of Paul Goesch opens March 18, 2023

(Williamstown, Massachusetts)—Paul Goesch (German, 1885–1940), an artist and architect of the Weimar period who long struggled with schizophrenia, is the subject of Portals: The Visionary Architecture of Paul Goesch, a new exhibition at the Clark Art Institute opening on March 18, 2023. Drawn primarily from the collections of the Canadian Centre for Architecture in Montreal, the exhibition is the first solo presentation of Goesch’s work in North America. Portals is on view at the Clark through June 11, 2023.

Paul Goesch produced one of the most inventive, peculiar, and poignant bodies of work to emerge from interwar Germany. In his lifetime, he was a noted member of Expressionist circles even as he was institutionalized for mental illness. This exhibition focuses on his vibrant and inventive architectural fantasies, presenting more than thirty of Goesch’s drawings alongside the work of some of his architect peers and artist contemporaries such as Wassily Kandinsky (1866–1944) and Käthe Kollwitz (1867–1945). 

Portals shines a light on the work of an artist and architect whose name and contribution have been lost to time,” said Olivier Meslay, Hardymon Director of the Clark. “With this presentation, we hope to introduce Paul Goesch’s captivating drawings—with their vibrancy, playfulness, and formal invention—to a new generation, nearly one hundred years after they were made.” 

The exhibition is curated by Robert Wiesenberger, the Clark’s curator of contemporary projects. “To enter the strange and stunning world of Goesch’s drawings is to appreciate the still unrealized potential of architecture and the limits of our understanding of art and mental health today,” said Wiesenberger.


A century ago, amidst the ruins of the First World War and the ferment that birthed Germany’s first democracy, a generation of young architects sketched their visions for utopia. Goesch stands out among them for his formal inventiveness and range, his kaleidoscopic color sense, and his playful and pluralistic embrace of architectural history.

Goesch was a prolific artist of religious and mythological scenes, portraits, and landscapes, although his training was as an architect. While he theorized about the role of architecture, none of Goesch’s designs were ever realized. His architectural fantasies reveal his fascination with portals and passageways and provide the framework through which the exhibition considers his singular vision. The portal suggests Goesch’s metaphysical passages as a spiritualist, steeped in Christian theology and occultism, as well as the altered states of schizophrenia, with which he struggled throughout his life. The portal also evokes Goesch’s liminal status between the worlds of art and architecture, “sanity” and “madness,” and his standing as a both a trained insider and an institutionalized “outsider.” These dualities have made Goesch difficult to categorize for historians and critics—both in his own time and now— and may help to explain why, although once celebrated, he has until recently been all but erased from history.


Born in 1885 in the city of Schwerin, Goesch spent his childhood in Berlin. Though baptized Lutheran, he became devoutly Catholic in his teens, “overwhelmed,” as he recalls “by the stunning splendor of the church.” Goesch performed poorly in school, suffered chronic illness, and was isolated from his classmates, retreating into himself. Still, tutored by an older student, he developed a love of art and literature, as well as architecture—which he went on to study.

At the age of twenty-four, intrigued by the new possibilities of Freudian psychoanalysis, Goesch began a session during which he experienced his first psychotic break, and entered a sanatorium for treatment. Returning to Berlin a year later, he received a diploma as a state construction foreman, a position in which he worked only briefly. 

Goesch’s curiosity about the world led him to study Rudolf Steiner’s teachings, with their focus on the connections between the outer, natural world and the inner, spiritual one. He joined Steiner’s Anthroposophical Society in 1913 and took part in building its headquarters, the first Goetheanum, in Dornach, Switzerland—one of the most significant Expressionist structures yet to have been constructed. 

The Expressionist movement began in the first decade of the twentieth century as an attempt to create a new art for the future and escape the stifling culture of Imperial Germany under Kaiser Wilhelm II. The young artists who formed associations like Die Brücke (The Bridge) in 1905 and Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider) in 1911 preferred bright colors and distorted, dynamic forms. They looked inward, outward, and back for alternatives to academic conservatism: inward, to their emotions and subjectivity; outward, to the arts of Africa and Oceania that they saw in museums; and back, to medieval Germany, for its mysticism and tradition of woodcuts. Indeed, printmaking was a popular medium of artistic experimentation for the Expressionists given its affordability of production and distribution and its graphic, emotional immediacy. 

During the First World War, Goesch worked briefly as a civil servant in the post office but was again institutionalized from 1917 to 1919 with the diagnosis of what is now termed paranoid schizophrenia. Upon his return to Berlin, Goesch joined the circles of Expressionist artists in the city. This second generation of Expressionists, many of whom are included in the exhibition, continued their work in the Weimar Republic, Germany’s first democracy (1918–33). Responding to the unthinkable horrors of the First World War (in which many of them had served) and the deprivation in its wake, their art took a darker turn but was also, for many, more political—intent on building a new social order. In the spirit of the November Revolution that birthed the German republic, artists and architects formed radical associations with socialist aims: the Arbeitsrat für Kunst (Work Council for Art) and Novembergruppe (November Group) sought a voice for art workers in the new government and were largely guided by architects and the utopian metaphors of architecture.  Goesch was a member of both. While their hopes for political agency were soon disappointed, their radical aesthetics continued.

The exhibition features works Goesch made in Berlin from 1920–21 between stays in mental institutions. Some of these drawings suggest commemorative arches or entryways. Others evoke architectural canopies, like the kinds that cover altars in churches or thrones in palaces, expressing a divine or royal presence. Still others depict the facades of chapels, whose ornamental entries traditionally mark the transition from a profane to a sacred realm. While Goesch’s drawings vary greatly in style and technique, and are ambiguous in scale and suggested material, they are metaphysically rich in their suggestion of passages to another state—whether holiness, enlightenment, or utopia.

In 1920, the prestigious Galerie Flechtheim in Dusseldorf, which counted Wassily Kandinsky (1866–1944), Paul Klee (1879–1940), and Pablo Picasso (1881–1973) among its artists, featured Goesch’s work. The conditions that enabled Goesch’s moment in the sun lasted only briefly, however. By July 1921 he was again institutionalized, as he would remain, with brief interruptions, for the rest of his life.


In the aftermath of the war, ambitious building in Germany was impossible amidst material shortages, a hyperinflationary currency, and a lack of commissions. Under these conditions, the practical, physics-bound work of architecture was replaced by the speculative fantasies of “paper architecture,” in which anything was possible. Architecture assumed a leading place in Expressionist circles in these years: the Work Council for Art was co-founded by architects Walter Gropius and Bruno Taut and guided by architectural metaphors. Taut agitated for public funding for experimental architecture and workers’ housing, the dissolution of the art academies, and the “destruction of artistically valueless monuments”—to free up building material. He and his peers, including Goesch, dreamt of formally inventive houses for the people that broke from the classical styles and elitist social structures of the past. 

Disappointed by a lack of political agency in the new government, Taut took his activities underground, establishing in 1919 a group of architects around Germany who corresponded via pseudonyms about the buildings of the future, sending each other theoretical texts and drawings by mail. Named the Gläserne Kette (Glass Chain), in homage to the material many of them favored in their schemes, the group included twelve other architects, Goesch among them. Some of the members, such as Gropius, Hans Scharoun, and Taut himself, went on to build signature modernist buildings in the years to come while others, like Hermann Finsterlin, became known for their unbuilt fantasies. Despite its secretive posture, much of the Glass Chain’s theoretical and artistic output appeared in Taut’s journal Frühlicht (Dawn). Goesch was a highly valued contributor; in addition to his texts, more drawings by him appear in Taut’s journal than by almost any other member of the group. The Clark’s exhibition features drawings and prints by both Bruno Taut and Hermann Finsterlin.

In 1919, Gropius founded the Bauhaus, a school dedicated to uniting the arts and craft around the project of architecture. While the school began with a quasi-mystical, expressionist character inspired by the guild-based collaboration of Gothic artisans, by 1923, under the influence of Soviet constructivism, it committed itself to “a new unity” between art and technology. As the hyperinflationary Weimar currency stabilized in the same years, a sober and scientistic functionalism took hold and glass and steel structures sprouted up across Germany. In 1925, Gustav Hartlaub, director of the Mannheim Kunsthalle—who five years earlier had acquired Goesch’s drawings for his museum—would popularize the term Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity) to describe a matter-of-fact, post-Expressionist tendency in art that had clear parallels in architecture. Expressionism had run its course. Yet these years of high modernism were also short-lived.

Following its rise in 1933, the Third Reich either crushed or coopted various strains of the avant-garde, with dire consequences for artists and architects—and especially those deemed ethnically, sexually, or psychologically aberrant. Goesch’s work, along with that of his Expressionist peers, was confiscated and presented in the Nazi’s infamous 1937 touring exhibition Entartete Kunst (Degenerate Art). By this time, Goesch had been institutionalized for many years. In 1940, Nazi doctors murdered him in the former Brandenburg prison as part of their “Aktion T4” euthanization program. The regime would also murder some 300,000 other patients with mental illness, whom they designated as “life unworthy of life.” 

Under fascism, Goesch’s ungovernable visions became untenable; on paper, however, his unique approach to building remains. With nearly fifty prints and drawings, Portals presents Goesch’s work alongside that of some of his Expressionist contemporaries, including Kandinsky, Kollwitz, and Max Beckmann (1884-1950), and reintroduces his distinctive vision to modern audiences.

The exhibition is accompanied by a catalogue of the same name, co-authored by Wiesenberger and scholar Raphael Koenig, that is the first English-language monograph on Goesch. The publication, distributed by Yale University Press, considers its subject in terms of vibrant period discourses on art, architecture, and mental health.

Wiesenberger will present a free lecture on the exhibition on Saturday, April 8 at 2 pm in the Clark’s auditorium. 

Portals: The Visionary Architecture of Paul Goesch is organized by the Clark Art Institute and curated by Robert Wiesenberger, curator of contemporary projects. It is based on the Paul Goesch collection at the Canadian Centre for Architecture, Montreal.

This exhibition is made possible by Katherine and Frank Martucci. 

Images: Paul Goesch, Visionary design for an arch, c. 1920–21, graphite and gouache. Centre Canadien d'Architecture/Canadian Centre for Architecture, Montreal, DR1988:0254; Paul Goesch, Architectural composition (Triumphal arch) or Visionary design for a gateway, c. 1920–21, graphite and gouache on watercolor paper. Centre Canadien d'Architecture/Canadian Centre for Architecture, Montreal, DR1988:0241; Paul Goesch, Architectural composition (Triumphal arch) or Visionary design for a freestanding gateway, 1921, watercolour and gouache over pen and black ink on tracing paper. Centre Canadien d'Architecture/Canadian Centre for Architecture, Montreal, DR1988:0242

The Clark Art Institute, located in the Berkshires of western Massachusetts, is one of a small number of institutions globally that is both an art museum and a center for research, critical discussion, and higher education in the visual arts. Opened in 1955, the Clark houses exceptional European and American paintings and sculpture, extensive collections of master prints and drawings, English silver, and early photography. Acting as convener through its Research and Academic Program, the Clark gathers an international community of scholars to participate in a lively program of conferences, colloquia, and workshops on topics of vital importance to the visual arts. The Clark library, consisting of some 300,000 volumes, is one of the nation’s premier art history libraries. The Clark also houses and co-sponsors the Williams College Graduate Program in the History of Art.

The Clark, which has a three-star rating in the Michelin Green Guide, is located at 225 South Street in Williamstown, Massachusetts. Its 140-acre campus includes miles of hiking and walking trails through woodlands and meadows, providing an exceptional experience of art in nature. Galleries are open 10 am to 5 pm Tuesday through Sunday, from September through June, and daily in July and August. Admission is free January through March and is $20 from March through December; admission is free year-round for Clark members, all visitors age 21 and under, and students with a valid student ID. Free admission is also available through several programs, including First Sundays Free; a local library pass program; and EBT Card to Culture. For information on these programs and more, visit or call 413 458 2303.

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