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Gerhard Rühm - poet, composer, musician, visual artist and performer

Category: Exhibition 10. November 2017

The Austrian poet, composer, musician, visual artist and performer Gerhard Rühm (*1930 Vienna) and his multifaceted oeuvre, spanning more than 6 decades, is the subject of the ongoing solo retrospective „Gerhard Rühm“ in the Bank Austria Kunstforum.

Besides numerous solo exhibitions, his work was shown -among others- in the Stedelijk museum Amsterdam, the documenta in Kassel in 1977 and 1987, in the Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt, and in the Joanneum Graz. The Austrian National Library acquired his archive in 2012.

In the 1950ies, Rühm founded the Vienna Group together with HC Artmann, Friedrich Achleitner, Oswald Wiener and Konrad Bayer. The group’s language scepticism and their experimental and performative apporach were a decisive influence on his work.


Deconstruction and destruction are essetnial for Rühm’s oeuvre, at the beginning of the exhibition there is a photographic documentary about the performance „Piano Demolition“ of 1959, where Rühm and F. Achleitner smashed a grand piano on stage with an axe, during the „Literary Cabinet“ of the Vienna Group. However, the Vienna Group is not the main focus in the exhibition curated by Heike Eipeldauer.

Ceaselessly transgressing borders, Rühm searches for an permanent expansion of language as a medium, in his graphic art, his literature, as well as in his musical work.

At the boundaries between art disciplines he transforms print letters into pictures, handwriting into drawings, language into music. His « visual poetry » and its musical counterpart, graphically reworked « visual music » and his « auditive poetry » with piano pieces and chansons are part of the retrospective as well.

Photographic and typographic collages, drawings and videos are on display, together with audio dramas and songs. As the son of a member of Vienna’s philharmonic orchestra, Rühm initially started in music; while studying piano and compositon he became interested in Jazz and twelve tone music, the principles and techniques of which he eventually started to apply to language and texts.

Besides the anthology of the Vienna Group on display in the 2nd room of the exhibition, which made the language experiments of Rühm, Artmann, Achleitner, K. Bayer and O. Wiener of the Vienna Group famous, in the main hall there is a grand piano in a multi-media installation. Here visitors have the opportunity to participate, following the artist’s special instructions.

By his language experiments Rühm searched to explore his own as well as language’s subconscious, he drew or painted blindly, or while falling asleep. His profound interest for the materiality of language as visual and phonetical material is evident in his word and sound designs, his drawings, photomontages, text objects, paper cuttings, musical scores and performances. In the last room of the exhibition visitors can recite sound poems, try automatic drawing or create typographies on an old typewrietr.

The context of the avantgarde movements in the early 20th century and the influence that constructivism, dadaism, futurism, and surrealism had on Rühm and the Vienna Group, and how they developed these concepts further becomes comprehensible in the course of the exhibition. (written by Cem Angeli)

Kunstforum Vienna, until Jan 28, 2018, daily 10 a.m. – 7 p.m., Fridays 10 a.m. – 9 p.m.

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