First Night (in Italian): Teatro Foce / Lugano, 17 November, 2023
The performances in Lugano are in Italian. English-spoken shows are planned for 2024 / 2025. 

The Markus Zohner Arts Company is thrilled to announce the launch of an exciting new theatre production on the life and artistic legacy of Swiss artist Adolf Wölfli.
The performance provides an intimate look into Wölfli’s inner world, bringing to life the story of a man broken by the hardships of a youth as a Verdingbub, a contract child, following his life story from childhood struggles to the creation of his enormous body of artworks, writings, and musical compositions.

BEYOND – Inside the Mind of Adolf Wölfli depicts Wölfli’s difficult upbringing as an orphan, an indentured child and a farm labourer, his struggles, his missteps and his later institutionalization at the Waldau Clinic psychiatric hospital in Bern.

Viewers gain insight into how Wölfli channelled his traumatic experiences into a massive creative output during his 35 years at the hospital, including over 1,500 drawings and collages, 25,000 pages of literary works and musical compositions.

Actors Luca Massaroli and Baptiste Vurlod bring sensitivity and emotional depth to their portrayals of Wölfli’s psychological struggles and artistic awakening. The new theatre piece by the Markus Zohner Arts Company provides a poignant look at Wölfli’s unique inner vision and creative genius. The production will highlight the difficulties and triumphs of Wölfli’s unique inner life.

The Performance

To narrate the multifaceted Swiss artist Adolf Wölfli (1864-1930) and penetrate his revolutionary world, we use voice, movement, dance, music, rhythm, and projections as intricate and elaborate as the elements of his multiform paintings, which incorporate musical staves, collages, numbers, and words in addition to drawings. Two actors embody the revolutionary universe of an artist who, through his schizophrenic illness, was confined for 35 years in a psychiatric hospital. This led to a continuous production of thousands of drawings, a monumental fantasy biography of 25,000 pages self-bound in 45 volumes, an unfinished funeral March of 8,300 pages, geographical and algebraic notebooks, and more.

Luca Massaroli and Baptiste Vurlod guide a limited audience to an intimate encounter with the madness, creation, enthusiasm, and the need for expression of this visionary who anticipated Andy Warhol, Picasso, Apollinaire, Man Ray, Dalí, Magritte. Almost illiterate, he could barely read and do sums as taught at primary school, yet, using only paper and coloured pencils, he explored a fantasized world of colours, words, and music beyond space and time, free from any artistic reference to his era and giving life to a brilliant work.

Adolf Wölfli and His World

Adolf Wölfli, having been expelled from a hostile and brutal world, crossed the borderline to create a new world for himself – a world of his own where he could live. By inventing a different past for himself, he managed to build a new life with an imaginary past – a life that was only possible in a new reality, different from the brutal one. A reality that was his alone, cheerful, where he could transform pain into colours, screams into notes, nightmares into words. A reality that people who remained on the other side of the borderline called madness.

In the creation of BEYOND – Inside the Mind of Adolf Wölfli we are specifically interested in this passage: this breaking of a boundary that separates the world compliant with social norms from the one where different rules, different types of logic, different necessities and ways of behaving are in force. This passage from one side to the other of the borderline is always dictated by immense pain, the result of enormous suffering. Put the other way round: without pressure, without vital necessity and without suffering, man would not cross this kind of boundary.

In Adolf Wölfli’s case, the pressure from suffering linked to his personal history was enormous. Despite all the associated problems, fortunately, he found refuge and protection from the brutal exterior realities, allowing him to transform the darkness of past horror into light and artistic expression.

Adolf Wölfli: Schähren=Hall und Schährer=Skt. Adolf=Ring, 1926, coloured pencil on paper, 50 x 66,4 cm

Elka Spörri
The Art of Adolf Wölfli: St. Adolf-Giant-Creation

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; Andre 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 humour. 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, colour 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.

Cit. Elka Spoerri, Adolf Wölfli, J. Baumann, Edward M. Gómez
Semantic Scholar DOI


The art historian Elka Spoerri (1924-2022) founded the Adolf Wölfli Foundation, which administers the legacy of the versatile artist Adolf Wölfli and is based at the Museum of Fine Arts in Bern. With tenacity and sensitivity, she promoted the work and in-depth study of Adolf Wölfli’s immense artistic production in numerous exhibitions. Her catalogues are reference works; her parallel biography of Wölfli, juxtaposing the chronology of his natural and imaginary life, was an innovation.

First Night (in Italian): Lugano, 17 novembre 2023

Text and Directing: Markus Zohner, Patrizia Barbuiani

Cast: Patrizia Barbuiani, Luca Massaroli, Baptiste Vurlod

Stage Setting and Interaction Design: Sandro Pianetti

Video and Photography: Patrick Botticchio, Primitive Films

Sound: Studio Radio Petruska

Graphic Design: Edy Ceppi

Production Assistant: Elisabetta Preite

Production: Associazione artistica PETRUSKA for Markus Zohner Arts Company

Blauer Wein: 1A Qualität, 1914 pencil and coloured pencil on newspaper, 72/72,5 x 199,7 cm, A 9253-103 /XII/p.527)

Notes for the Audience

We recommend booking your tickets well in advance. Due to the intimate nature of the play, the number of seats is limited.

Please note: This production contains strong language and adult themes, including references to mental illness, slavery and sexual abuse.

There is a strict no-latecomer policy for this show due to its quiet, intimate nature. Please ensure you leave plenty of time to arrive.

Available on:

BEYOND – Inside the Mind of Adolf Wölfli

Actors Massaroli and Vurlod bring sensitivity and emotional depth to their portrayals of Adolf Wölfli’s psychological struggles and artistic awakening. The new theatre piece by the Markus Zohner Arts Company provides a poignant look at Wölfli’s unique inner vision and creative genius. The production will highlight the difficulties and triumphs of Wölfli’s unique inner life.