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The 1960s - Fantastic Modernism

29. March 2011

„The 1960ies: a fantastic modern“ in the MUSA Vienna reveals the spirit of a decade marked by radical upheaval, along the way the entire who’s who of Austrian art is displayed.

Not only in politics, also in the domain of the arts the 1960ies were a decade of worldwide upheaval, the radical changes can also be retraced in the Austrian art scene of that period. At the beginning of the decade, art became in many cases more political and provocative in its statements, drawing on subjects in between the realities of the mundane and the artistic. The convergence of high culture and popular culture has its beginnings in these movements, followed by a fundamental challenge to the previous notion of art.

The subject matters of the paintings of that era often take on daily life; they reflect the reality of the period, promoting and depicting cultural changes. The exhibition offers an interesting extract of these very varied developments from 1960 to 1969. Up to now the MUSA has purchased approx. 4300 works of art dated from 1960 to 1969, from more than 780 artists.

For Bernhard Denscher, head of Vienna department of culture, the MUSA is “a display window for the city’s art”. Due to limited space only 130 works of art are on display in the exhibition.

„All in all, the exhibition stock of the 1960 turns out to be very heterogeneous, with works of very varied importance, nevertheless illustrating the spirit of the time” say the curators of the exhibition, Berthold Ecker and Wolfgang Hilger.

The curators of the exhibition succeeded in reproducing the atmosphere of an era. By displaying different positions about radicalism and adaptation, about revolution and establishment, ambivalences and contradictions become perceptible as ingredients of art.

Unorthodox, provocative behaviour, shock and irritation of familiar customs, breaking taboos and the end of prudish attitudes constituted the counterculture of those times. In the 1960ies, the Viennese actionists provoked with their performances, radically challenging mainstream approaches to the concept of the human body.

Preconceived notions shaped by the taboos and religion of Austrian post-war society were parodied and confronted with alternatives.

The means of confrontation between the established mainstream and its criticism were often interactive and blasphemous; in the act of public painting the dimension of time gained new significance, taking precedence over the material.

Action painting became an integral part of Viennese Actionism and aesthetic experience took precedence over distant contemplation.

For Günter Brus, Otto Mühl, Hermann Nitsch, Rudolf Schwarzkogler and Adolf Frohner, confrontation with “informel” painting which seized tendencies of pre-war abstract expressionism was crucial, as much as the performances of the Vienna Group with its experimental forms of recitation.

Another group of artists appeared in 1968 under the catchword of „Wirklichkeiten“ (realities) which was -besides the performance “art and revolution” by the actionists- in the curators’ opinion the most significant event of the decade. Their common traits were, among others, that they painted colourfully, not abstract, and would not adhere to the rules of perspective and bodily proportions.

In the current exhibition the original group of „Wirklichkeiten“ is extended to a larger circle, in order to demonstrate that it is not a group distinguished by a clearly defined style but rather represents significant protagonists of an art which embodies the feeling of the 1960ies.

Regarding the selection of artworks for this show, preference was given to objects which exemplify the new tendencies of the 1960ies in a symptomatic manner. This was inevitable because the proportion of historically significant pieces was larger than in the preceding decade.

The exhibition offers a representative cross-section of the MUSA collection and of an important decade of Austrian art history. (ca)

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