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TOOLS OF ENGAGEMENT: THE ART OF FRANZ WEST

OVER THE PAST two decades, FRANZ WEST has gained renown for his boundary-blurring installations of sculpture, furniture, and their perplexing mongrel offspring. Less well known, however, are the Austrian artist’s formative efforts within the fervent Viennese cultural scene of the late 1960s and early ’70s, where he forged the participatory aesthetic and unassuming political tactics that have made him a touchstone for future generations. On the occasion of West’s first US retrospective, opening this month at the Baltimore Museum of Art, art historian CHRISTINE MEHRING unearths these roots and explores their relevance to West’s ongoing polymorphous production.

ON JUNE 7, 1968, the crowd in Lecture Hall 1 of the University of Vienna’s New Institute Building was treated to an evening of “Art and Revolution,” consisting of writer Oswald Wiener’s lecture on the relationship between language and thought, as well as less decorous displays of onstage nudity, vomiting, and urination. These stunts, courtesy of Wiener’s Viennese Actionist pals, later led an outraged public to dub the legendary event the Uni-Ferkelei (campus mess or ribaldry), while the authorities charged participant Günter Brus with defecating and masturbating during a rendition of the national anthem, and Wiener with reportedly instructing the audience to repeat these activities in Vienna’s St. Stephan’s Cathedral. At the close of the evening, sponsored by the Socialist Austrian Student Organization, Wiener asked whether anyone in the crowd would like to comment on the proceedings, a

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