Viennese Actionists

07.03. – 05.07.2009

The exhibition »Open Store: Viennese Actionism« at the Staatsgalerie Stuttgart provides an insight into the artistic output and critical reception of the inhomogeneous group of Viennese Actionists around Günter Brus, Otto Muehl, Hermann Nitsch and Rudolf Schwarzkogler and of the artists associated with them such as Kurt Kren or Valie Export. In addition to paintings, collages, films, photographs, prints and performance props, the exhibition also presents a selection of original sketchbooks, artists’ books and correspondence.

They highlight the fact that the performances did neither begin nor end with the audience’s physical experience of them, but that they formed an integral part of an ongoing process informed by the interplay between event, mediatisation and reception.

The exhibition also examines the differences between the individual artists’ approaches, their pictorial languages and their treatment of material and bodies in space as expressed in Sullying, Disembodiment, Mutilation and Endurance Test. Whereas Brus’s ascetic monologue-like performances reveal a cruel Eros, Nitsch’s work is marked by a Dionysian lust for life, Muehl’s by energetic attempts at self-liberation and Schwarzkogler emerges as the melancholy exponent of Viennese Actionism.

Very few people will have had direct experience of the performances that characterise Viennese Actionism. Film and photography play a key role in their diffusion and documentation. The artists were well aware of the necessity of preserving and transmitting a record of their activities that would outlast the moment of the actual performance and that would allow them to take an active part in shaping their art historical reception.

They entered into challenging co-operations with photographers and film makers, particularly with Ludwig Hoffenreich and Kurt Kren, both of whom developed a pictorial language of their own, refracting the radical authenticity of the performances through the lenses of their cameras. Kren’s free-associating films criticise the artists’ conceited ambition of bridging the divide between performance and spectator by means of body and film. The Viennese Actionists were forced to recognise that recording and reproducing tools – eyes, language, cameras – impacted on their performances and that photographs, texts, manifestos and eyewitness accounts fell just as short as performances did of conveying definitive truths.

The Viennese Actionist works shown here are drawn from the holdings of several departments of the Staatsgalerie Stuttgart, particularly from the Sohm Archive. This presentation kicks off a series of in-depth explorations of the rich and varied holdings of the Staatsgalerie Stuttgart. Under the title Open Store, the series not only seeks to provide an insight into the wealth of works held in the museum’s stores and archives but also to examine the role of the store as a place of safekeeping and categorisation.

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