Sohm Archive: Viennese Actionism

In the introduction to »MANIFEST das lamm« of 1964, Hermann Nitsch acknowledged that »the development of art was tending towards using reality as a formative medium.« In the late 1950s he had invented the feast of the »Orgies Mysteries Theatre,« a celebration connected with music and eating, where the sacrifice of a lamb is charged with mythical meaning and linked with the crucifixion of Christ and the Dionysian cult of antiquity. The intention was to combine the existential and excessive elements of the two and create a context in which participants could re-experience those elements.

With an approach less concerned with mythology, Otto Mühl undertook to violate taboos by carrying on the »action painting« of artists like Jackson Pollock, now using material taken from life - flour, eggs, blood and excrement.

Günter Brus and Rudolf Schwarzkogler went a step further, incorporating the injury of their own bodies into their work by not only painting them but literally tearing them to pieces.

Friedensreich Hundertwasser set out to make inhuman concrete housing blocks more suitable for living by means of »creative mould,« while Arnulf Rainer painted self-obliterating works, »in order to leave painting behind.« »Viennese Actionism,« considered Austria’s most important contribution to contemporary art, is to be understood on the one hand as a political provocation directed against an environment characterized by Catholicism and the aftermath of fascism; on the other hand - like ultimately all of the manifestations of the counter-culture under discussion here - it was also a seething criticism of international abstract art by means of a belligerent contradiction of its frosty inaccessibility.

The archive collection comprises extensive documentation on all of the above-named artists as well as on the »Viennese Group« (Gerhard Rühm, Friedrich Achleitner, Hans Carl Artmann, Oswald Wiener) - a pioneering literary movement - and other Austrian “actionist” sympathisers such as Kurt Kren, Valie Export and Peter Weibel. [ IC ]

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