Monday, April 09, 2007

Viennese Actionism

This last week, Holly and I took our first vacation since moving to Austria. Since we like to take small steps, we decided to visit Vienna, which is indeed every bit the cultural capital that its reputation would have you believe. During our time there we visited around half a dozen museums and took in everything from local heros Friedensreich Hundertwasser, Gustav Klimt, and Egon Schiele to Yves Klein and a first rate visiting exhibitions of the visual art works of Hermann Hesse, of which I was previously unaware. In the basement of the Museum Moderner Kunst, I encounted something of which I was also previously unaware, which is Viennese Actionism. I will assume that Rufus has already written a book on this subject in much the same way he assumes I command knowledge on all of the natural sciences.

Three of the artists whose names I can recall were Otto Mühl,
Hermann Nitsch, and Günther Brus. The works in the exhibition included some short videos of things suchs as a few frames of someone eating food interspersed with defecating, photographs of the artists genetalia covered in a pile of animal brains and assorted gore, photographs of the slaughter and crucifiction (?) of an actual lamb, and assorted bit-especially-right-in-the-head hippie-love-in photographs. I wonder if these guys were the inspiration for Lord of Illusions.

Anyway, some or all of them were at various points on the run from the law in the late 60's. Some of the less expressly gruesome examples in the exhibit included some Fluxus works by John Cage, Dick Higgins and similar. There was a somewhat interesting piece by the latter wherein some blank orchestral staff paper had been fired upon with an air-rifle and then preformed by an orchestra. So that was all very postmodern and mostly made me want to burn the building down. I guess it's good in that it was the predecessor to preformance art. Unfortunately, while I like the idea of preformance art, frequently the execution makes me grumpy.

So what happened to art anyway. Just a few years apart we had all this marvelous stuff from Max Ernst, Rene Magritte, Salvador Dali and the like, and then all of a sudden, we have Yves Klein painting everything blue, mashing paint on canvasses with nude women and then these guys gutting a sheep and taking pictures of organs on their organs? Well, I suppose its not like there is no art that I like now, or that I liked all that much of it in the 19th century anyway.

So RF, do you have any thoughts on Actionism and/or Fluxus art?


Rufus said...

Well, I have to give them credit for the fact that most of them were pretty funny about what they were doing. I've read some really entertaining interviews about Fluxus. But, yeah, it's sort of like how many times can you watch someone throw raw meat at a naked woman?

For me, performance art always seems like it will be great beforehand, but I'm usually let down by it. I think it's because I saw a video of Chris Burden as a teenager, and I really don't think anybody's been able to equal the effect of his stuff. After someone's been shot for their art, where else can you go with performance art?

Rufus said...

So, I take it you're not the go-to person when I have epidemiology related questions?

Rufus said...

Thanks for posting by the way!

gregvw said...

I know only a little about epidemiology and most of that is from math books on nonlinear differential equations.

Rufus said...

It's funny- what I usually get from people are incredibly obscure history questions about areas that are way outside of my field, and then when I can't answer them, they seem very disillusioned. I'm pretty sure most people think that a history degree concludes with an exam that asks: "Now, tell us everything that has ever happened..."