Viennese Actionism

Violence as Vulnerability

Viennese Actionism was a short-lived but highly influential and controversial movement in the late 1960s. The loosely affiliated artists of the movement explored the gross viscera of the body, reacting to the ravages of World War II, the stifling conservatism of Austria and the overbearing prevalence of abstract art. As one of the first swells of performance art, Actionism enlisted the body as a medium to challenge the limits of moral and social acceptability.

Günter Brus took the “action painting” of revered expressionists like Franz Kline and Jackson Pollock to a logical and violent conclusion; early performances featured him dressed in white, cut in half with a gestural Kline-esque gash of black paint, wandering the public squares of Vienna. Later performances, often done in his studio with his wife Anni, involved self-inflicted acts of pain and abasement that explored the extremes of art and the body.

This photograph is documentation of a performance Brus did in 1965, Selbstbemalung / Selbstverstümmelung (Self-painting / Self-mutilation), filmed and edited by Kurt Kren. While conversations around Viennese  Actionism remain contentious, it undoubtedly served as inspiration for the proliferation and maturation of important performance art in the 1970s and decades to come. 

Being covered in white paint, you demonstrate behavior intended to create a public nuisance...a breach of the peace and public order...My body is the intention. My body is the event. My body is the result.

Günter Brus