Vienna and Body Art

Vienna News

« John Baldessari, “I am Making Art”, black and white video, 1971.

The body is the all-time favourite hit theme in Vienna. Vienna, arguably, being the cradle of post-war Europe body art and performance responsible for Fluxus movement, exhibitions dedicated to Wiener Aktionismus, or Viennese Actionism were widely in evidence. Hermann Nitsch, whose historical St. Marx performance orgy of blood and dead animals in the 1960s, had his retrospective show at Essl Collection (until 11 January). Günter Brus, another pillar figure for this movement whose works marked by self-inflicted injury and brutality to the extreme, had his first Retrospective at Albertina (7 November – 8 February). Another Actionist and founder of utopian artists community Friedrichshof Commune, Otto Muehl undisclosed painting works since his gestural action of destroying easel canvases in 1962 (Otto Muehl. Life, Art, Work – Action Utopia Painting 1960-2004 at MAK,).

Today, Vienna is clearly moved away from the radicalism of the 1960s and the 1970s. The fourth sequence of the five-part ‘Performative Installation’ Body Display: Body and Economy at the Secession, for one, puts the question of body and matter of money in a contemporary on-stage context. John Bock’s inexpensively-constructed installation, adorned with sex toys and disjointed limbs and torsos of dolls, is a metaphor of bodies helplessly exposed to vulnerability. The gap between artist´s aspirations and realities becomes once again visible in the display of Austrian Svetlana Heger’s body, transformed into an advertising billboard for luxury brands.

That bodies Speak has been known for a long Time – indeed, and exactly with that title Dass die Körper sprechen, auch das wissen wir seit langem, an exhibition at Generali Foundation examined the theme with 23 artists. In Kunsthalle Wien, one finds St. Sebastian : A Splendid Readiness for Death, an enlightening exhibition on the representation of the arrow-punctured Catholic gay martyr and patron saint of plague and AIDS, surveying the aesthetics of sado-masochism, physical torment, and death. Within all these displays of flesh and blood, Innocy, a cuddly monster made by Japanese artist Shintaro Miyake (Krinzinger Projekte), earned sympathy when he made a surprise appearance cum performance at Vienna’s traditional Café Prückl, the favorite café of art students, right next to MAK, where director Peter Noever continued his blame game against the government for freezing his budget.

Arts Secretary Franz Morak for his part invited criticism from the artists’ community with a newly proposed social security plan that would result in reduced benefit, particularly for artists with low level of output. Not all is lost, though, as Vienna’s City Cultural Council boasted that it secured its annual funding of €1.2 million at hand for disposal to initiate a public arts project called Kunst für öffenlichen Raum, (Art for Public Space, that is). Also financially troubled Künstlerhaus, whose entrance door remained shut since last October(after its last show Abstract Now), said it will resume its contemporary arts exhibitions from April. In the meanwhile, Viennese galleries are anticipating a radically new version of KunstWien art fair from the year 2005 (prospective fair days are 20-24 April). Ths annual art fair of regional scale suffered drastic fall in attendance and sales as the event dates collided with London’s new Frieze Fair.


Eva Hesse: Transformations, Kunsthalle Wien in Museumsquartier, 5 March – 23 May 2004. ‘The Sojourn in Germany 1964/65’ – so goes and subtitle of the show, and it will feature over 60 drawings, collages, gouaches, and reliefs as well as sculptures Hesse produced during her one year stay in Kettwig(near Essen), Germany, where the artist presumably had an impetus to move on to minimalistic tendencies. Also included in the exhibition are personal documents such as calendar notes and travel diaries to catch a glimpse at the artist’s inner conflicts and developments.

From the Pages of My Diary, Atelier Augarten Zentrum für zeitgenössische Kunst der Österreichen Galerie Belvedere, From 20 February and onward. This on-line arts project initiated by Atelier Augarten, contemporary exhibitions center within Austria’s National Galerie Belvedere, presents the works of various artists of the moment in series throughout this year. Featuring artists include: Christy Astuy, Tatiana Bazzichelli, Betty Bee, Roberto Cascone, E.G.Ø, Frank Gassner, Marcus Geiger & Marcus Geiger, Gelatin, Francesco Impellizeri, Lucia Leuci, Marko Lulic, Ezia Mitolo, Vegetali Ignoti, Erwin Wurm.

Art & Rebellion (Viennese Actionism Archive), MUMOK (Museum Moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig Wien), MUMOK Factory, 12 February – 25 April 2004. As any serious museums and private collections in Vienna, MUMOK in Museumsquartier holds a comprehensive Viennese Actionism collection and auxiliary documents which has been put to permanent show since last summer. This show features archived documents, including photos, original manuscripts, notes, personal sketches and publications obtained from recent purchase (Friedrichshof Collection) and gifts from artists (Günter Brus and Hermann Nitsch).

* This article originally appeared in the Contemporary magazine issue no. 62 in 2004.

John Baldessari, I Am Making Art, 1971, videostill, Generali Foundation Collection, Vienna, © Generali Foundation.