To inaugurate its recently opened space in Oslo, Rod Bianco Gallery is presenting a show of the unbounded, erotically charged paintings and drawings of the (in)famous Viennese Actionist artist Otto Muehl. Curated by artist and gallery founder Bjarne Melgaard, and titled “Otto Muehl: Paintings and Drawings from the 80s,” it offers a focused look at a group of works stemming from the artist’s radical performances and actions—as well as their ramifications.
Produced between 1980 and 1985, the works on view were preceded by a series of events that led Muehl into trouble with the police and to his founding a commune, a utopian experiment that (inevitably?) ended badly. In the spirit of the Viennese Actionist movement, the artist regularly engaged in actions and performances full of violence, sexuality, and abjection throughout the 1960s. In 1970, he was invited to participate in “Happening & Fluxus,” an exhibition organized by prominent curator Harald Szeemann. The performance he presented there, Manopsychotic Ballet (1970)—which involved nude performers, cameramen, and a cellist—scandalized visitors and led to his disillusionment with the art world. He sought refuge by building his own world, in a sense, in the form of a commune that became known as the Actions Analytical Organization. It was there that he made the works on view at Rod Bianco.
Rendered in a naive style that Muehl developed in the late 1960s, the works burst with scenes of sex, violence, and aggressively suckling infants. They are so expressively executed, with gestural, rapid-fire brushstrokes and pencil lines, that they verge on abstraction. Men and women with grossly exaggerated genitalia, and often oversized bodies and tiny heads, engage in rough intercourse. Scenes of slaughter and references to war appear here, too. In one painting, titled HITLER (1985), the Fuehrer’s face is smeared across the surface of the canvas, delineated with thick, black lines and scribbled-in patches of yellow, red, orange, white, and green pigment. Other paintings feature a field of tangled corpses, a figure viciously biting into a bird, and a pair of skeleton-headed men brandishing phallic guns. The intensity of these and the other compositions on view offers a sense of the ethos of Muehl’s live presentations—and may make some glad to see his vision confined to the canvas and the page.