I'm not interested in chlichés

Hubert Klocker on Viennese Actionism

Hubert Klocker / photo: Christian Wind

Hubert Klocker is director of the Friedrichshof Collection. As a member of Art Cluster Vienna, the Stadtraum Sammlung Friedrichshof has participated in VIENNA ART WEEK since 2016. Klocker discusses the position of Viennese Actionists today and the reappraisal and catching-up museums need to do when it comes to work by Otto Muehl or Hermann Nitsch, for example.

You are in charge of one of the most comprehensive and important collections of Viennese Actionist work. Yet the masses still associate with “Friedrichshof” communes and scandals. How do you counter this?
Hubert Klocker: You are right; it is the most comprehensive private collection of works by the Actionists from the 1960s and 1970s. We show part of the collection on a permanent basis, and we contextualize the holdings with an internationally-oriented exhibition program. This year, we’re presenting more recent works by Helmut Lang. Because of this effort, people are starting to register that the Friedrichshof has changed since the Commune ended in 1990 into a place with a hotel, a toque-blanche restaurant, a space for living and relaxation and, yes, exhibition spaces. We do this by our bootstraps, though, without public funding. It’s difficult and now rather unusual in Austria.

What is your take on the old scandal clichés? Or have the Actionists become mainstream? One thinks of the Nitsch paintings hanging in the office of former Lower Austrian governor Erwin Pröll, etc.
Hubert Klocker: I’m not interested in clichés. They obscure what really matters. The fact is that Viennese Actionism has gone through a phase of art-historical reappraisal. The question as to which paintings politicians hang in their offices has no bearing on a serious assessment of their content.

How and in what direction do you want to steer the perception of Actionism?
Hubert Klocker: It is about sensitizing people through serious and critical mediation. Viennese Actionism is profound, but it is not an easy, pleasant and decorative art. It pokes fingers in wounds that shaped the intellectual and cultural-political development of Austrian society after the catastrophes of the first half of the 20th century – and continue to do so today. The artists offered something psycho-hygienic while simultaneously developing works with a splendid, forward-looking formal language. I was able to contribute something in terms of the museum mediation process. It was often a hard thing to do – bear in mind that for political reasons none of the artists represented Austria at the Biennale or were offered a professorship at the art academy. That says a lot.

What led you to Actionism?
Hubert Klocker: Intermediality piqued my interest even as a high school student in the 1970s. I studied in the US for a year and became acquainted with important performance theorists such as Herbert Blau and Richard Schechner. It is because of this that I recognized the internationally important position for what it was, and was soon able to put this knowledge to work in exhibitions and books.

How has your perception and interest changed with time?
Hubert Klocker: The challenge is in the intermediality. Individual works are complex; the perspective on them changes constantly. The overall assessment of Nitsch suffers from the fact that people focus almost exclusively on his painting. As outstanding as it is, hardly anyone witnessed his main work, the 6-day play by the Orgiastic Mystery Theater. Hermann Nitsch influenced theater; he is a composer and director. I pointed this out with an exhibition at the Austrian Theater Museum.

How far has the reappraisal come from your point of view? Do the Viennese Actionists have their proper place in art history?
Hubert Klocker: Yes, they do. Internationally, they are perceived as having made a major contribution to the performative turn in art. Austrian art history places them in the direct lineage of Wiener Moderne. I am happy to have given both interpretations a significant boost.

How would you assess the attention of public museums?
Hubert Klocker: There is still a lot to be done at the international level. But the impetus for it has to come from Austria. The Museum moderner Kunst (mumok) has done a great deal of necessary work with survey exhibitions. But all museums, especially the Belvedere and Albertina, have to do their part. We still need a serious reappraisal of Otto Muehl’s work, but his scandalous biography gets in the way. Hardly anyone really knows him. The last comprehensive exhibition of Rudolf Schwarzkogler’s work was 25 years ago, and it’s high time for a critical survey of Nitsch’s paintings.

Text by Christine Imlinger:

Christine Imlinger is editor of the daily newspaper “Die Presse” in Vienna.

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