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.

Action “Oh Sensibillity” (1970)

Otto Muehl (Born 16 June 1925. Died 26 May 2013)

 Otto Muehl  is an Austrian artist, who is best known as one of the co-founders as well as a main participant of Viennese Actionism. In 1972 he founded the Friedrichshof Commune, which has been viewed by some as an authoritarian sect, and that existed for several years before falling apart in the 1990s. In 1991, Muehl was convicted of sexual crimes involving adolescents, and sentenced to 7 years imprisonment. He was released in 1997, after serving six and a half years, and set up a smaller commune in Portugal. After his release, he also published his memoirs from the prison (Aus dem Gefängnis).

In 1943, Otto Muehl served in the Wehrmacht and in 1944 he was sent to the Front. After the war, he studied teaching German and History, and Pedagogy of Art at the Wiener Akademie der bildenden Künste.

In the sixties his aim was ‘to overcome easel painting by representing its destruction process’. He made rhizomatic structures with scrap iron (“Gerümpelplastiken”), but soon proceeded to the “Aktion” in the vein of the New York Happenings. In 1962, when he was 37, the first “Aktion” “Die Blutorgel” was performed in Muehl’s atelier in the Perinetgasse by Muehl himself, Adolf Frohner and Hermann Nitsch. The “Fest des psycho-physischen Naturalismus” and “Versumpfung einer Venus” followed in 1963. From 1964 to 1966 many “Malaktionen” were filmed by Kurt Kren and photographed by Ludwig Hoffenreich. In 1966 a new concept of Aktion was developed with Günter Brus: instead of the canvas, the body became the scene of action. In 1968, Muehl, Brus and Oswald Wiener organised an Aktionsveranstaltung “Kunst und Revolution” in the University of Vienna, which caused a scandal in the press; they were arrested and Brus emigrated to Berlin.

Gradually, Muehl began to distance himself from “Aktion”. He regarded the “happening as a bourgeois artform, mere art”. The “transition from art to life” resulted in the founding of the commune as a kind of anti-society. All members submitted to the so-called Aktionsanalyse. The declared aim was the destruction of bourgeois marriage and private property, free love, and collective education of the children. In 1974 he played a small role as a member of an anarchic/therapy commune in Dusan Makavejev’s Sweet Movie. In the eighties, tensions within the commune increased until they culminated in a revolt under the direction of Altenberg. When, on top of that, Muehl was arrested and imprisoned in 1991, the commune fell apart. In 1997, when he was 72, Muehl moved to Faro, Portugal to start a new commune experiment. Despite suffering from Parkinsons disease, Muehl continued his art work, and in 2002 developed “electric painting films”, a new technique in which he paints digital photos from actions using a computer tablet and pen and edits the process into films.