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Collections Untitled

Title
Untitled
Artist
Otto Muehl
Date
1963
Dimensions
overall 30.375 × 28.5 × 4 inches
Materials
sand, plaster, stockings, emulsion on sackcloth
Location
Not on view

Object Details

Type
Paintings (Paintings)
Accession Number
1999.32
Physical Description
A painting with heavy impasto and holes in the center of the canvas.
Credit Line
T. B. Walker Acquisition Fund, 1999

object label Otto Muehl, Untitled (1963) , 1999

In our painting we recognize materials as the real object of our works. It is a question of presenting material, matter itself. For us, manufactured paint exists no more, we reject it as something aesthetic and degenerate. Our guiding principle is: matter=paint.–Otto Muehl

Otto Muehl was part of a group called the Viennese Actionists: a performance-based movement with strong ties to Fluxus. This group of Austrian artists coalesced in the early 1960s and quickly became an important force in the international avant-garde. Inspired by the ideas of the New York School painters active in the 1950s, the Actionists became one of the most gestural, body-oriented, sexually provocative, and psychologically inflammatory artistic groups ever developed. In their works, the body became a surface and a field for political expression. Their actions were a violent critique of the hegemonies of the state and church, and placed the artists in serious conflict with conservative Austrian society.

Muehl’s controversial work presents an aesthetic of destruction and broken barriers and taboos. His philosophy could be summed up in this quote: “I find cleanness extremely suspicious, it only camouflages dirt and impotence.” He gave up easel painting in 1961 and strove for a process that offered broader expressive possibilities. He started by spreading the paintings on the floor, then set them on fire and proceeded to attack and destroy the picture surface by slitting the canvas, demolishing the frames, and integrating various objects–such as paper, rags, stockings, nails, and cigarettes–into the paint. This work was completed the year that Muehl abandoned the canvas entirely and turned toward performance “actions.”

Label text for Otto Muehl, Untitled (1963), from the exhibition Art in Our Time: 1950 to the Present, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, September 5, 1999 to September 2, 2001.

Copyright 1999 Walker Art Center

curatorial commentary Philippe Vergne discusses Otto Muehl’s Untitled (1963) , September 1999

Otto Muehl, for me, for a long time, has been an important artist. He was associated and one of the founders of the movement in Vienna, a post-war movement, called the Viennese Actionism, together with three other artists: Gunter Bruce, Hermann Nitsch, and Rudolf Schwarzkogler. This movement has been considered as the first modernist movement in Austrian art history. This group of people started to work together post-war dealing with something which could be related to the idea of action painting in the way people like Jackson Pollock were doing in America after the war; so, it’s something which is between painting and between performance, between something on the canvas and an action. It’s abstract as very often the paintings, in their case, are a result of an action. It’s not about representation. All those artists were trained to get rid of the idea of figuration and the idea of representation. The Viennese Actionists were very controversial because when they get rid of the painting itself, they run into the practice of performances. Performances that were challenging all the taboos of the Austrian society such as the Catholic religion, sexuality, and political right-wing power as they were doing action with animal blood, with nudity, with … Of all the actions the body was one of the main medium.

But before going through that, Otto Muehl was doing the kind of painting you can see right now, which was a painting dealing with the materiality of painting, trying to challenge something which was a flat representation and bringing this flat representation, this flat medium, to another field. He did that by analyzing deconstructing the different medium of painting, pigments, the frame and the canvas. This untitled painting from, I guess, 1963 is one of the most violent paintings he did. It’s between construction and deconstruction between destruction and the invention of a new field into the art. The canvas is totally distorted and tortured, the canvas is moving towards a three-dimensional object through installation. For Otto Muehl, it was maybe the last step before jumping into the field of performance.

What I like also about that painting is that we’re dealing with an object which becomes the field of something which is not only aesthetic experience but in this case, in the Viennese situation post-war the painting becomes a political experience, a very violent political experience.

Philippe Vergne, Curator of Visual Arts, Walker Art Center, commenting on Otto Muehl’s Untitled (1963), during the exhibition Art in Our Time: 1950 to the Present, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, September 1999.

Copyright 1999 Walker Art Center