The once reviled, then celebrated Austrian performance artist and painter Günter Brus is dead. He died on Saturday at the age of 85, as the director of the Bruseum, Roman Grabner, told the German Press Agency. The Bruseum is a permanent exhibition in the Neue Galerie Graz, which is dedicated to the artist's complete work. He was a co-founder of Vienna Actionism.
“Günter Brus was one of the outstanding artistic personalities of the 20th century, who pushed the limits with his art and literally put his body to the test,” wrote Grabner in a tribute. "He lived unconditionally for art and never shied away from the consequences of his radicalism." The museum honored "his fearless uncompromising nature, his clear and inalienable attitude and his indispensable radicalism."
Brus became famous through a scandal: in the year of protest in 1968, he and other artists took part in a performance at the University of Vienna, where Brus, partly naked, smeared himself with his own feces, masturbated and sang the Austrian national anthem. The campaign, known as the “university piggy” and intended to bring society out of its post-war lethargy, shocked the audience.
The action was “Austria’s only relevant contribution to this year’s global protests,” writes the Bruseum. "The fact that it was artistic and not political suggests Austrian society as much as the nature of the protest." At the time, Brus was convicted of, among other things, “violating morality and modesty” and fled to Berlin for a few years to avoid prison.
Although Brus was known as an actionist, the phase of spectacular actions only lasted seven years, according to the Bruseum. The collection shows works from his 60 years of creativity, including drawings, photo portfolios, action sketches, prints and so-called image poems that Brus invented: text-image dialogues in which the image and the poem stand side by side. US artists such as Paul McCarthy and Raymond Pettibon saw them as European ancestors of comic art. According to the Bruseum, Brus' work was a "consistent crossing of the boundaries of classical artistic genres."