The image at breaking point

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“My body is the intention, my body is the event, my body is the result,” said Gunter Brus, co-founder with Otto Mühl, Hermann Nitsch and Rudolf Schwarzkogler of  a new art movement called Vienna Actionism.

Artists of the Vienna Actionism defined their radical style through a critique of painting, specifically that of European Art Informel and the Abstract Expressionism of the New York School. This artistic movement was mainly focused on the Body Art. It wanted to go beyond the traditional boundaries of painting, assuming that the body was the main action zone. This idea produced some among the most violent, symbolic and self-destructive performance of 1960s.

In fact, in the early 1960s, the Vienna Actionists utilised pain, self-destruction, audience’s shock as way to protest against Austria’s cultural repression.

Working separately, the four Vienna-based artists in  Rite of Passage: The Early Years of Vienna Actionism, 1960 – 1966′ undertook processes in which the painted image was stretched to its breaking point. Representation in their art, especially in their actions, was replaced by a vehement devotion to sensorial and directly perceptible values: blood for Nitsch, junk and rubbish for Muehl, thick viscous white paint and meaning-laden objects for Brus, and the deconstruction of the compositionally-controlled image for Schwarzkogler.

The show, opening next month in New York City, explores, through rare paintings, collages, and photographs, the emergence of the critical 20th-century avant-garde movement. The Early Years of Vienna Actionism, 1960 – 1966 is curated by Hubert Klocker and will be on view through 25 October at Hauser & Wirth’s uptown location.

by Fausta Maria Bolettieri

All images are Copyright © 2014 Hauser & Wirth

Rite of  Passage: The Early Years of Vienna Actionism, 1960 – 1966 is on from September 9 –  October 25, 2014 at Hauser & Wirth Gallery, 69th Street, New York
Opening reception takes place on Tuesday September 9, 6 – 8 pm