actionists

Fall 2014 Editor’s Pick
Opens Tues, Sept 9, 6-8p:

RITE OF PASSAGE: The Early Years of Vienna Actionism, 1960 – 1966”
 Günter Brus, Otto Muehl, Hermann Nitsch, Rudolf Schwarzkogler

Hauser & Wirth, 32 East 69th St., NYC

the first major New York City exhibition to explore, through rare paintings, collages, and photographs, the emergence of a critical 20th-century avant-garde movement. Various artistic developments in the second half of the 20th century have been influenced by a performative paradigm that emphasizes a move away from formal, static objects and toward more directly experiential, event-like, and sensorial gestures. In the early 1960s, the Vienna Actionists defined their radical style through a critique of painting, specifically that of European Art Informel and the Abstract Expressionism of the New York School. Under Austria’s Second Republic, Brus, Muehl, Nitsch, and Schwarzkogler sought out new possibilities for expression that could transcend the shadow of World War II. Motivated by material experimentation, they developed their art around radical body-centric performances through which authentic experiences of reality and incisive political statements could be directly and intensely perceived.

JUST GIVE ME SOME ACTION: VIENNA ACTIONISTS COME TO NEW YORK

Text by Kerry Gaertner Gerbracht; courtesy Art in America

The sexual, violent and scatological performances of the Vienna Actionists, a group of artists whose operations began in the 1960s, are among the art world’s most notorious. Members Günter Brus, Otto Muehl, Hermann Nitsch and Rudolf Schwarzkogler were active among the ruins of the Austrian capital after World War II, tapping into their city’s deep psychoanalytic and artistic avant-garde roots—the city was also home to Sigmund Freud, Egon Schiele and the Vienna Secession artists.

Dissatisfied with the limits of painting and photography, the Actionists sought a medium by which to convey their political and psychic condition, a mission which led to the performative use of their own bodies. While they never abandoned traditional mediums, they pushed the limits of performance—they often employed blood and feces; pain and sexuality were recurrent themes. The group’s works grew out of Austrian circumstances but parallel the works of contemporaries including the French Situationists, the Japanese Gutai, Fluxus and international Happenings.

"Rite Of Passage: The Early Years of Vienna Actionism, 1960-1966," an exhibition of paintings, collages and photographs, will be on view at Hauser & Wirth’s Upper East Side location (Sept. 9-Oct. 25). The show’s curator, Hubert Klocker, director of Sammlung Friedrichshof, in Zurndorf, Austria, spoke with A.i.A. by phone last week about postwar Vienna and the Actionists’ critique of abstract painting.

KERRY GAERTNER GERBRACHT
 The Actionists worked separately; they were not joined as any sort of collective. What is the unifying theme of this exhibition?

HUBERT KLOCKER
 When we talk about the Actionists, it’s important that we talk about a group situation in the ’60s that started to become more and more political as the decade continued, especially in combination with other contemporaneous developments both in Europe and all over the world. What the four main Viennese Actionists—Nitsch, Brus, Muehl and Schwarzkogler—had in common in the first half of the decade was their critical reaction to the Parisian manner of abstract painting.

GERBRACHT
 Why did they find abstract painting inadequate?

KLOCKER
 They found that it would not allow them to put across what they really wanted to express. They wanted to put their finger on certain issues, such as Austrian postwar political developments. It was not an iconoclastic movement, however. They always stuck with painting and the object. When they started to do performance, they still thought about the picture and the icon. They tried to use photography in order to create new kinds of images, and contributed quite early on to staged photography.

GERBRACHT
 How aware were the Actionists of their New York contemporaries, namely the Abstract Expressionists and Pop artists?

KLOCKER
 They were aware to a certain degree. There was the presentation of the New York School at the second Documenta (1959) and at the Venice Biennale (1960). Brus rode a bike to Venice to see Franz Kline’s paintings at the U.S. Pavilion.

GERBRACHT
 He rode his bike from Vienna to Venice?

KLOCKER
 He had no money. Vienna was shattered and the artists did not have many possibilities. There had been information coming in from Paris in the late ’40s and early ’50s. The Surrealists had been in Vienna, and there had been some underground clubs. At the time there was Galerie nächst St. Stephan, which did not exhibit New York artists but did show Yves Klein and Piero Manzoni and others like them.

GERBRACHT
 Was the Actionists’ use of violence a sort of penance for Austria’s enmeshment with the Third Reich?

KLOCKER 
As youths they all had been confronted with the war. Muehl was a little bit older and he actually had to go to war in the last two years. They talk about healing, thinking about psychoanalysis, psychophysical experiences, freeing themselves. Of course, that’s only one part of the picture. They all connected strongly with the art of early 20th-century Vienna.

GERBRACHT
 Vienna at the turn of the century was an international art hub, home to Gustav Klimt, Oskar Kokoschka, the Wiener Werkstaette and the Vienna Secession. With the two World Wars, it was almost as if it froze and had its reawakening in the ’60s.

KLOCKER 
The late avant-garde in Austria connected with the early-20th-century modernist situation. Only now can it be seen more clearly how they relate to each other. That’s an interesting aspect of this show. There are highly aesthetic, highly expressionist, very strong formal works in this exhibition and I try to make the situation in Austria clear—this was a kind of a late avant-garde.

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Lady Boy (thus named because he is such a pretty little dude) has no other vices, he is a friendly and healthy boy who loves cuddles and will wow you every day with his stunning display of handsomeness.  He simply needs a home where he can be the man of the coop, somewhere he can watch over his own group of hens without having to worry about competing with any other fellows and will be protected, loved and cherished by his human friends.  Could this be with you?

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Lady Boy – Stunning bantam rooster for adoption This incredibly handsome little man is an Old English Game Bantam/White Silky cross and is approximately 6 months old.