Philippe Vergne discusses Otto Muehl’s Untitled (1963)
Philippe Vergne, 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.
Copyright 1999 Walker Art Center