Dr. Guislain Museum – Ghent, Belgium - Atlas Obscura

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Dr. Guislain Museum

A Museum of Psychiatry in a still-operating mental institution. 


Opened in 1986, the Dr. Guislain Museum is dedicated to educating the public about psychiatric care - a bold agenda for a museum in a mental institution. Dr. Guislain, the museum’s namesake, defended the rights of the mentally ill and laid plans for decent and humane treatment back in 1828, when patients were still being tied up with chains. A statue of Dr. Guislain can be found on Begijnhoflaan.

The museum hosts exhibitions of the work of the mentally ill, including a current display of the Serbian painter, Goran Djurovic. They also curate exhibitions that examine how we relate to each other as people, including a current fascinating retrospective of how a man looks at man, called “People on Show.”

In addition to rotating exhibitions, the museums houses three permanent collections: (1) a comprehensive history of psychiatry, (2) a catalog of photographs of the mentally-ill dating back to 1860, and (3) a collection of outsider art. The history of psychiatry chronicles ancient treatment, from both Greek and Eastern histories (trepanning tools to Hippocrates to exorcisms), through the present-day use of psychotropic drugs. A fascinating computer module lets the visitor administer a variety of tests, including one from the late nineteenth century. The museum also includes a small collection of medical models related to psychiatry.

The history includes information about the Anti-Psychiatry movement as well. The photograph collection is unusually comprehensive because it relies on the photographs taken within the Institution from the past century and a half. Lastly, the collection of outsider art holds paintings and sculptures done by self-taught artists from around the world. With signs in Dutch, French, and English.

Know Before You Go

Tram 1 to Guislainstraat. Buses 9 and 65 stop at the nearby Guislainbrug. 

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