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 Otto Muehl  (1925 - 2013)

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Lived/Active: Austria/Portugal      Known for: religion, politics and sexual more themed painting

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Ad Code: 3
AskART Artist
from Auction House Records.
Crucifixion, 1984
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Please note: Artists not classified as American in our database may have limited biographical data compared to the extensive information about American artists.

Following is the obituary of the artist from The New York Times.

Otto Muehl, Actionist Artist, Dies at 87
Published: May 29, 2013

Otto Muehl, an artist whose work combined sex, violence, gastronomy and bodily effluence with unbridled abandon, died on Sunday in Portugal. He was 87 and had lived in Portugal since 1997, since his release from an Austrian prison after being convicted of having sex with minors.

Danièle Roussel, the director of the Otto Muehl Archives, announced the death to European news agencies. Mr. Muehl had been ill with Parkinson’s disease in recent years.

A founder of Viennese Actionism, a school of radical performance art that sought to upend what it saw as the stultifying bourgeois conventions of the postwar years, Mr. Muehl was known for art in a range of media — including painting, live happenings and movies of his work by him and other filmmakers — that was banned and exhibited in seemingly equal measure.

In Europe his work was shown at the Louvre and the Leopold Museum in Vienna; in the United States it was exhibited at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago and the Maccarone gallery in New York.

Mr. Muehl’s art had clear affinities with the action painting of Jackson Pollock and the “body art” of performers like Chris Burden. (In a piece from 1974, Mr. Burden had himself crucified, with real nails, atop a Volkswagen Beetle.)

But to judge from his vast portfolio, Mr. Muehl out-Burdened Burden for violence and out-Pollocked Pollock for viscosity.

Yes, 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.

Writing in the journal Artforum International in 2006, the artist and critic Christopher Miles reviewed three films of Mr. Muehl’s performance pieces made in 1964 by the Austrian filmmaker Kurt Kren.

“Although they now look rather like home movies from a scatology cult, it’s difficult not to be nostalgic about these films,” Mr. Miles wrote. “The sobering knowledge that they appeared in the same year as My Fair Lady, Mary Poppins and A Hard Day’s Night helps us see just how far outside the popular realm Muehl has always operated.”

To judge by the Austrian authorities who periodically banned it, Mr. Muehl’s art was sometimes considered a threat to public morality; at other times it was simply considered a threat to public safety. He was once arrested and briefly jailed for a performance that entailed throwing a kitchen sideboard stuffed with flour and marmalade out of a window. Whether any injuries ensued is unrecorded.

Otto Muehl was born in Grodnau, Austria, on June 16, 1925. After serving with the German Wehrmacht in World War II, he earned a teaching degree in German and history from the University of Vienna and also studied at the city’s Academy of Fine Arts. From the mid-1950s to the mid-’60s, he worked as an art therapist in a home for emotionally disturbed children.

With Günter Brus, Alfons Schilling and others, Mr. Muehl founded Actionism in the early 1960s. Though he made his art on canvas at first, over time he came to believe that the human body itself should serve as the canvas for his raw, uncompromising aesthetic.

Mr. Muehl did not abandon painting entirely. In later years he produced dissident canvases that included depictions of Hitler sporting a penis where his nose should be and of Mother Teresa engaging in sexual acts.

In the early 1970s Mr. Muehl started what became the Friedrichshof commune in eastern Austria. The commune, which at its height was reported to have about 600 members, also spawned like-minded groups elsewhere in Europe. Among its tenets were the repudiation of property, the irrelevance of the traditional family unit and rock-ribbed opposition to monogamy.

In 1991, amid accusations by former members that Mr. Muehl ran the group as a cult of personality, he was arrested on charges that included having sex with the commune’s under-age girls. He served nearly seven years.

Mr. Muehl, who in 2010 publicly apologized for his actions, founded and lived in a small commune in Portugal.

Mr. Muehl was married at least twice. Information on survivors could not be confirmed.

In a 2002 interview on the Web site of the Otto Muehl Archives, Mr. Muehl encapsulated in just four words the force that drove him.

“I enjoy confounding people,” he said. “That is my big idea. I have nothing more.”


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