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Primal Secretions: A Günter Brus Retrospective

Documentation of self-painting and self-mutilation in past performances by the Viennese Aktionist


Fields of Knowledge
  • Aesthetics / Media
  • Artistic legacies
  • Memory
  • Performance

Contributing Institutions

Cosmos Factory GMBH Filmproduktion / Gunter Brus Studio


Osvaldo Romberg


Heike Curtze (Austrian representative) and Peter Kasparak (Cosmos Factory GMBH Filmproduktion / Gunter Brus Studio)

Opens to public



4017 Walnut St
Philadelphia, PA 19148


25% Formal - 75% Informal

Slought Foundation presents "Primal Secretions: A Günter Brus Retrospective," an exhibition featuring original photographs and video documentation of past performances by Günter Brus in which the artist pushes himself to physical and mental extremes to analyze his own body and its functions. The exhibition will be on display from September 23, 2006-December 23, 2006 and has been curated by Osvaldo Romberg, Senior Curator at Slought. It will feature photographic and video documentation of performances including Selbstbemalung, 1965; Kunst und Revolution, 1968; and Zerreissprobe, 1970.

A public reception will take place on Saturday, September 23rd, 2006 from 6:30-8:30pm, with introductory remarks addressing the post-war Austrian context within which Günter Brus developed his controversial body and self-analyses by Cecilia Novero at 7:15pm. Cecilia Novero will also lecture on the work of Günter Brus on Wednesday, September 27, 2006 from 7:00-9:00pm. In "Violence as Vulnerability: Günter Brus's Surgical Art," Novero will explore the confluences and contrasts between this neo-avant-garde enfant maudit's performances and contemporaneous international art (e.g., informel, happenings). In collaboration with the audience, Novero will then analyze a series of individual actions by Günter Brus. Following the discussion, BODYANALYSIS, a documentary about the work of Günter Brus realized by Peter Kasparak, will receive a United States premier. The documentary features rare photo and video documentation by Kurt Kren, Otto Mühl, Hans Christof Stenzel, as well as the private film collection of Günter and Anni Brus. This evening event is part of an ongoing series of programs at Slought Foundation exploring the historic and contemporary avant-gardes, with an emphasis on extreme performances and practices.

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Günter Brus, an Austrian performance artist, draughtsman, painter and film maker, was born in 1938. With Otto Muehl, Hermann Nitsch and Rudolf Schwarzkogler he was a founder-member of the Aktionismus group (Viennese Actionism), and with Muehl he helped found the Institut für Direkte Kunst in 1966. To a certain extent, Brus conceived of his Aktionen in terms of paintings or tableaux, where the body occupied the centre of a clearly defined space. Just as he had scratched and degraded the fabric of his paintings to the point of destruction, in his Aktionen he portrayed various acts of self-mutilation. This development was encapsulated in the title of his exhibition in 1965 at the Galerie Junge Generation in Vienna: Malerei, Selbstbemalung, Selbstverstümmelung (Ger.: painting, self-painting, self-mutilation).

In his Aktionen after 1967, Brus pushed himself to further physical and mental extremes as he analyzed his own body and its functions, while colleagues such as Hermann Nitsch and Otto Muehl concentrated on the role of the body in the construction and analysis of psycho-dramas. Symbolism was generally dispensed with in the performances, as Brus publicly urinated, defecated and cut himself with a razor-blade, for example. The first of these Aktionen to be performed in public, Citizen Brus Looks at his Own Body, was performed in Aachen and Düsseldorf in 1968; in June of the same year his Art and Revolution, performed at Vienna University, led to his arrest and a six-month prison sentence for degrading the symbols of the State.

The culmination of these body-analysis Aktionen came in 1970, when Brus stopped his live performances and returned to painting, drawing and the production of artists' books. His first exhibition of drawings at the Galerie Michael Werner in Cologne, and his book Irrwisch, both in 1971, formed a link between the bleak Expressionism of the Aktion and the book form by joining grotesque sexual humor, cathartic intention, and at times narrative depictions of his performances and fantasies.

"This show is a reminder of how an artist with such elementary tools (paint, the body, and a dramatic capacity) can supersede his own identity and iconography and can demonstrate, consciously or unconsciously, a new pathway for the next generations of artists and intellectuals to come. In preparing for this exhibition, I have come to view Günter Brus today not just as a great performance or body artist, or a pioneering Actionist, but also as one of the great political artists and one of the prophets of twenty-first century art."

-- Osvaldo Romberg

"This loose movement of artists - among whom the most prominent were Otto Muehl, Hermann Nitsch, Günter Brus, and Rudolf Schwarzkogler - disdained the repressive sexual and political culture in which they were immersed. Their actions functioned as a rebellion against both bourgeois repression and internalized forms of violence. Their exhibitionist and 'pornographic' art thus used and abused the human body, including the artists' own, as well as other non-canonical art materials such as bodily discharge and food... The Actionists should not be read as solely an example of either post-war International neo-avant-garde or Austrian modernism. Rather, the Actionists brought these two into a creative - if disturbing and ultimately unresolved - tension and did so, moreover, within the context of the culture of the 'new' Austria after world war two."

-- Cecilia Novero, Painful Painting and Brutal Ecstasy: Günter Brus and Otto Muehl's Actions