STUTTGART.- Beginning in March, a presentation of Viennese Actionism with works from every area of the Staatsgaleries holdings and particularly from the Sohm Archive will form the prelude to the new exhibition series Open Depot in the museums Stirling Hall.
Viennese Actionism forms part of a series of avant-garde movements that sought to revitalise art after the end of the Second World War. In the 1960s the Viennese Actionists rejected bourgeois academic concepts of art, choosing instead to respond to the political and cultural narrow-mindedness of the period with provocative performances that sparked considerable furor. Their work, which involved the body and a wide range of non-art objects and substances, was raw and visceral and directed against the state and the established social order. Having absorbed the tenets of expressive action painting, the artists pursued a radically single-minded path towards a process-orientated Actionism that was strikingly unsparing in its engagement with suppressed fears, aggression, primal urges and sexual taboos. Today, fifty years later, Viennese Actionism stands as one of the most significant contributors to the opening up of modern art, instrumental in ushering in the performance-based process and installation art of the subsequent decades.
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 that highlight the fact that the performances did neither begin nor end with the audiences 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 Bruss ascetic monologue-like performances reveal a cruel Eros, Nitschs work is marked by a Dionysian lust for life, Muehls 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 ephemeral 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 cooperation 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. Krens 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. Begun in 1963 and transferred to the Staatsgalerie in 1981, the archive is a unique and comprehensive compilation of material pertaining to art trends from the 1950s to the 1970s. Hanns Sohm, whose keen enthusiasm was matched only by his meticulousness, actively engaged with the artists of his time, among them the Viennese Actionists. A pioneering collector, he focused on artists publications and on ephemeral material that shaped the art context of the period. The items in his collection also bear eloquent witness to Sohms archival practice of treating his material as documents rather than as works of art.
In order to aid visitors in gaining an understanding of this Austrian art movement - which is still regarded provocative by many to this day a contact person will be present at the exhibition every Sunday between 2:00 and 4:00 pm to discuss the works and answer questions.