A Dadaist Doctor in New York

Covers of three New York exhibition catalogues of work by Charles R. Hulbeck AKA Richard Huelsenbeck

One of the founders of Dada with Hugo Ball, Richard Huelsenbeck (1892-1974) took part in the activities of the Cabaret Voltaire, Zurich, including creating and performing the simultaneous Dada poem L’amiral cherche une maison a louer with Tristan Tzara and Marcel Janco.

Huelsenbeck returned to Berlin in January 1917 and was closely involved with Berlin Dada.

Although evidence is sketchy and largely dependent on Huelsenbeck’s own account, it seems that he studied medicine in Berlin, Zurich and Greifswald. He worked as a military doctor in Fürstenwalde from April 1918 and then in Danzig with the neurologist Adolf Wallenberg. He worked with Karl Bonhoeffer at the Berlin Charité and as a doctor in ships voyaging to Africa, Asia, and the United States. As the situation in Germany deteriorated, he and his family moved to New York in 1936. With the help of Albert Einstein he was able to have his Prussian doctor’s license recognized in New York, and worked as an unpaid assistant psychiatrist at New York University Clinic.

On October 13, 1939, he changed his name to Charles R. Hulbeck. In March 1942 he applied for membership in Karen Horney’s American Institute for Psychoanalysis, where he became a lecturer.

Photography of the building on Central Park West where Hulbeck practiced as a doctorHe credited Horney with sending him many patients and he built up a lucrative practice, enabling him to afford a suite at 88 Central Park West.

Despite conceptual differences — he eventually became interested in existential analysis (Daseinanalyse) — Hulbeck remained on good terms with Horney, who took painting lessons from him. She also owned his watercolor Winterlandscape,  No. 16 of twenty-eight items listed in the catalog of his January 1945 exhibition at Feigl Gallery, 601 Madison Avenue, New York. The Frick Art Reference Library holds two other exhibition catalogs of Hulbeck’s work: that of his first one-man show at the Bonestell Gallery on 18 East 57th Street,  January 17–29, 1944, where he showed fourteen landscapes and portraits in oil and eight water colors and ink drawings, as well as that of a second show at the Feigl Gallery, from April 15 to  May 7, 1947, which presented fourteen gouaches and four drawings.

photo of double doors with above it, a sign that reads Karen Horney ClinicAfter Horney’s death, Hulbeck became an adjunct staff member at the Karen Horney Clinic, which was founded in 1955 and followed the Berlin Psychoanalytic Institute (BPI) polyclinic model.

In 1969 he retired from practice and returned to Switzerland. His 1969 essay "On leaving America for Good," (the now again) Huelsenbeck does not really mount a convincing case for this return to Switzerland: in America “as a doctor I was a success and as a Dadaist (the thing closest to my heart) I was a failure.”

This blog entry was posted on the occasion of Zurich Meets New York, May 16–23 2014. 


Three exhibition catalogs from the Frick Art Reference Library

88 Central Park West

Karen Horney Clinic


Veronika Fuechtner, Berlin Psychoanalytic: Psychoanalysis and Culture in Weimar Republic and Beyond, University of California Press, Berkeley, 2011.

Richard Huelsenbeck, Memoirs of a Dada Drummer, University of California Press, Berkeley, 1991.

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