Contemporary artist Guenter Brus, the last surviving key member of Vienna’s famed “actionists”, has died at the age of 85, the museum dedicated to the radical and provocative art movement said Sunday.
His death in hospital on Saturday came “after a short illness”, a spokesperson for the museum told AFP, confirming reports by press agency APA.
Born on September 27, 1938, in the village of Ardning, central Austria, Brus co-founded “Viennese Actionism” and pioneered using the body to make art.
He lived in Graz, eastern Austria, where a museum dedicated to him is located.
“From an Austrian perspective, Guenter Brus is certainly one of the few who have outstanding international significance. It is impossible to imagine art history without him,” Roman Grabner, who runs the Graz museum, had told AFP in September ahead of a special retrospective exhibit for the artist’s 85th birthday.
With Otto Muehl, Hermann Nitsch and Rudolf Schwarzkogler, he founded the 1960s “Body Art” movement, not shying away from using blood, urine and excrement as they defied the confines of traditional painting.
One of Brus’s most notable and first performances was in 1965 when he criss-crossed Vienna with his body painted white and bisected by a jagged black line before being arrested by police.
Grabner said the “legendary” act demonstrated “the rift in Austrian post-war society, including of course that of the individual who suffered from this situation”.
But the movement at times took a heavy toll on the artist.
Brus, with his wife Anna and their young daughter, fled Vienna in 1969 after he was sentenced to six months in jail for degrading Austrian state symbols.
He had taken part in a performance that involved stripping naked in a university lecture hall, defecating and masturbating while chanting the national anthem.
“In Austria nothing more would have been possible. We were shadowed by the judiciary as rioters, and rebels,” said Brus at the time. He settled in Berlin with his family before eventually moving back home.
Actionists, who were the children of war, refused to accept Austria casting itself as a victim rather than facing up to its role in the Holocaust, a shift that came in the 1980s.
“Vienna, as all of Austria, was contaminated by ageing Nazis,” Brus had said about the country that was the birthplace of Adolf Hitler.
His last live performance was held in Munich in 1970, when he appeared nude and cut himself with a razor blade.