Transgressive Otto Muehl Set Radical Template

Just in time for the Acker Awards, newly established to recognize noncomformity in the arts, obituaries for Otto Muehl have popped up in the news as if on cue. Muehl was a 1960s Vienna Actionist (along with Hermann Nitsch, Günter Brus, and Rudolf Schwarzkogler) whose “radical performance art,” as Margalit Fox put it in The New York Times, “sought to upend … the stultifying bourgeois conventions of the postwar years.”

From an Otto Muehl action performance.

Muehl’s death earlier this week and the award ceremonies being held Thursday in both New York and San Francisco are no more than a coincidence. But it’s obvious that with some exceptions such as Judith Malina’s, Boris Lurie’s, and Marina Abramovic’s, the artistic achievements of the Acker honorees aren’t nearly as transgressive as Muehl’s was. Not even close. “Something perverse about Austria brings out the best in certain artists,” says William Cody Maher, an American expatriate poet who lives in Germany. Indeed. As Fox writes:

Mr. Muehl splattered his nude subjects with paint in live performance and on film, but he also splattered them with soup, juice, milk, egg whites, blood, the internal organs of freshly slaughtered animals and, in a coup de grâce that appeared to follow the foodstuff to its inevitable conclusion, fecal matter.

It should also be noted that Mr. Muehl’s subjects, far from being idle, were, per his carefully worked-out choreography, generally having sex at the time. “The aesthetics of the dung heap are the moral means against conformism, materialism and stupidity,” Mr. Muehl declared in 1962.

‘Versumpfung Einer Venus’ September 1963 [Photographer: Ludwig Hoffenreich]

‘Versumpfung Einer Venus’ September 1963 [Photographer: Ludwig Hoffenreich]

Have a look at an interview Muehl gave in 2002 that puts his views in perspective.

The artist clears away taboos. What really shocks is being confronted with the facts. There is plenty to show. No one questions the State. The State doesn’t work. One cannot change it, not even through revolution. Private property is the end of ethics. Rousseau writes: “The first person to fence off a spot of earth and say, ‘That belongs to me, no one is permitted to trespass,’ should have been declared insane or beaten to death.” With this, the catastrophe of exploitation began.

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