Juxtapositions - 50 Years in Historical Comparison

21st February – 26th April 2014

When speaking of 1960s art, a differentiation must be made first of all between the American and European cultural areas. While in Europe one was still reacting directly to two world wars and the effects of fascist regimes, in America a strong and self-sustaining art scene was able to develop. Pop Art, Action Painting, Abstract Expressionism, Body Art, Land Art still describe international art activity today.

Already in the mid-1920s, European art experienced a caesura. The era of the manifold “isms” came to an end and a strict political canonization began to take hold. The (photo)montage advanced to the paradigm of avant-gardist modernism before it became, in the years to follow, the favored representational medium of the fascist and dictatorial propaganda machine.

The post-war period in Europa was shaped on the one hand by throwbacks to the 1920s, and on the other hand, by regionally autonomous, mostly politically oriented tendencies. In Austria, Actionism became the art movement that declared war on a society in which fascistic thinking remained persistent. Two-dimensional, panel art was declared a dead symbol of a “bourgeois understanding of art.” In Germany, along with retrospective, new adaptations in painting, a likewise performative art form developed with Fluxus, from which the art personalities Joseph Beuys and Dieter Roth emerged; applying American Pop Art approaches, they subjected these to a socially and environmentally critical, as well as process-oriented radicalism and, using throwbacks to readymade elements, staged these in new ways.

In order to clarify differences it is necessary to create a high potential for comparability. Selected works from the gallery’s collection relate a comprehensive picture of art production around 1960. The direct juxtaposition of the works shows how the various art currents were received over the course of 50 years and which changes at that time are a part of current discourses.

The multiples “Brillo Box” (1966) by Andy Warhol and “Wechselstromaggregat” (1968) by Joseph Beuys demonstrate the different artistic intentions in America and Europe. Andy Warhol’s “Pop Art icon,” is a painted copy of the original and part of an installation of 400 identical pieces, which were meant to be affordable for everyone. The work of Joseph Beuys is shown in the context of his social and environment-politically critical attitude. As part of a comprehensive performance, the installation symbolized the hope of being able to unify the dualisms of East and West, of mysticism and materialism, by means of art.

An additional art form that took up the commercial idea of Pop Art was Eat Art. As an actual art movement, it postulated the “unity of art and life” and elevated food to an artistic medium in the 1960s and 1970s. Dieter Roth thus points out in his work the processuality of all beings through the decay and decomposition of foods. Eating and cooking as the interfaces between nature and culture are visualized in Daniel Spoerri’s “Fallenbilder,” which as silent witnesses to an eternal circulation demonstrate a section of the life cycle. Joseph Beuys utilizes certain food items to convey his concept of the “social plastic.” Honey stands iconically for the bee’s cooperative division of labor and thus for a functional social order.[i] Paul Renner, whose art always stands in a close relationship with culinary arts, also uses this metaphor in his project “Bienenstock komprimert” (beehive compromised).

The discourse on the artistic value of use objects and the use-value of art which became anchored in the public consciousness at the latest with the readymades of Marcel Duchamp, found its application in, among others, a radical expansion of the concept of sculpture with individual, strongly divergent approaches. The early objects of Padhi Frieberger, for example, consist of found objects and, in their use of anti-bourgeois satires and narrative moments, strongly recall 1930s political art. These functioned as role models for the Viennese Actionists. Adolf Frohner, too, with his junk sculptures, recalls objects trouveés. For him it is not the narration standing in the foreground but, rather, a play on the aesthetic qualities intrinsic to the materials. His sculptural creed reads: “Art is everywhere.” Similar criteria applied for the textile objects by Erwin Wurm. Through the style of presentation, often hung, folded together, they are freed of their functions and essences as objects, and they receive therein the plastic quality of an abstract, monochrome art object with a haptic appeal. For Franz West, everything was principally worthy of art. The artist and the beholder were in an interactive relationship in which each participated equally in the artistic legitimation process. Rudolf Polanszky’s sculptures of found objects and materials scraps present an attempt to find a new relationship to the perception of topologies, by leaving behind conventional structures and formal constructions.

Performative art survives mostly in the form of photographs or films. These photos can be considered staged photography; the broad spectrum of this concept can only be sketched out here through a few examples.

In 1963, an action debuted in Vienna with the title “Versumpfung eines weiblichen Körpers – Versumpfung einer Venus” (The swamping of a female body – swamping of a Venus), in which the human body was inserted into a planned sequence of events and was treated as equal to the other materials used. Decisive for artist Otto Muehl is precisely the precision with which the photographic documentation makes the sequence of action understandable. Until the end of 1966, Muehl carried out his material actions usually with the implementation of female models; the actions are documented in photographs and films.[ii] The material qualities of the female body also dominate in the Kinbaku series by Nobuyoshi Araki, which was created in 2000. His monument-like stagings of female sexuality are meticulously arranged, tying in the architectural and spatial elements.

Artists whose own bodies become the medium of expression include, among others, VALIE EXPORT, Bruce Nauman, Carolee Schneeman, Friederike Pezold, and, later, Christian Eisenberger. The artists here see themselves as simultaneously subject, medium, and object of their actions. This dynamic required a letting-go of mimetic or representational forms of presentation and evolved into a gesture in which describing the world was bound together, in mutual complementariness, with describing the self.[iii]

Many Land Art and Street Art projects also belong to the ephemeral art genres, which are likewise kept alive through the medium of photography. For Christian Eisenberger, the deterioration or the loss of his installations in public space is already a part of the concept of the work as an integral component; without photographic records the works remain unknown. Joseph Beuys on the other hand made lasting marks with his documenta actions, which can meanwhile be viewed as monuments.

In the Konzett Gallery collection, Austrian paintings of the 1960s include, among others, the informal works of Günter Brus, Otto Muehl, Oswald Oberhuber and Adolf Frohner, as well as Op Art objects and computer images by Marc Adrian, who during his time was the only Austrian artist whose works were represented in the Louvre in Paris, in New York’s MOMA, and later, at the beginning of the computer age, at the Zagreb Gallery of Contemporary Art and the London ICA. Hans Weigand, Heimo Zobernig, Christian Eisenberger, Zenita Komad and many others present contemporary positions.

[i] Quoted from the press release to the exhibition “Kunst und Vergänglichkeit. Essen in der Kunst,” Kunsthalle Krems, 2013/14.

[ii] Cf. Millautz, Manuel: “Text zur Materialaktion Nr. 5 von Otto Muehl,” from the folder of the same name, archive of the Konzett Gallery, 2011.

[iii] Cf.: Martin Vöhler and Dirck Linck (eds.): Grenzen der Karthasis in den modernen Künsten. Transformationen des aristotelischen Modells seit Bernays, Nietzsche und Freud, Berlin/New York 2009, pp. 199-230.

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Juxtapositions - 50 Years in Historical Comparison

21st February – 26th April 2014