Vienna Actionism was a movement in Austrian art in the 1960s, in which the postwar generation protested against the reactionary torpor of Austrian society and culture. The movement’s dynamic revolt led to an expanded concept of art, as the “direct art” practiced by the actionists involved an aesthetic of raw material and the body that became a significant medium with political implications.
The Vienna Actionism of the painters Günter Brus, Otto Muehl, Hermann Nitsch, and Rudolf Schwarzkogler is one of Austrian art’s most important contributions to the international neo-avant-gardes of the 1960s, which employed intermedial, processual, and performative gestures of expansion, and thus permanently changed our concepts of art.
In Vienna Actionism’s highly sensual aesthetics real material and especially the body are used as a direct, taboo-breaking and political medium. The provision of a dimension of intensive experience is linked to the idealistic wish for both subjective and collective psycho-hygienic results. As a consequence, in the 1960s painting itself was no longer the focus, but rather event-based and dramatic works of art. The action in its specific incarnation—Brus’s shamanistic body analysis, Muehl’s group-analytical self-liberation, Nitsch’s Orgy Mystery Theater as a comprehensive total work of art, and Schwarzkogler’s strict synaesthetic laboratory of experience—is reflected by broad sculptural and especially photographic work. The pictorial world of Vienna Actionism is design, icon, document, approximation, indication, and marker, and it continued throughout the 1960s as a key focal point and still casts its representative shadow today.
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