PRINT October 2013


Otto Mühl

Otto Mühl, Nahrungsmitteltest, Materialaktion No. 26 (Food Test, Material Action No. 26), 1966. Performance view, Perinetkeller, Vienna, February 1966. Anni Brus and Ziemi Schieb. Photo: Ludwig Hoffenreich. © KH Hein.

WITH THE DEATH OF OTTO MÜHL, the legendary life of the artist comes to its completion.

Otto freed himself from a kind of “cubistic” compulsiveness through psychoanalysis. Obtrusive cleanliness and an overly obsessive neurotic conformism made him an anarchist. His amazing talent pushed all boundaries.

Otto had an incredible sense of humor. While my work was always dominated by the Dionysian pathos of the tragic, humor could erupt at any moment in any of Otto’s performances. And while I was never keen on politics in relation to my work, there are an immense number of manifestos by Otto in which political misdemeanors are scourged with powerful eloquence. Otto, Günter Brus, and Rudolf Schwarzkogler all confronted the fact of the Gesamtkunstwerk—that there should be a transition of art into life—and Aktionismus (Actionism) stands out as being especially close to life.

Otto’s leading influence was Sigmund Freud. Sexuality therefore played a central role in his thoughts and conduct. When he founded his large international commune, free sexuality was practiced compulsively. Members were forbidden to have sex with the same partner two times in a row to avoid infatuation. With his commune, Otto tried to break free from the decadent practices of the structures of civilization and state. He gave meaning and direction to many young people who had no orientation. Otto resonated with an enormous charisma. He was a very good teacher, whom young people easily followed. I did not follow his theory on sexuality or his practice of group habitation. Nevertheless, I had great respect for this project, for his powers of realization. But I never liked being a guest at Friedrichshof. It smelled of GDR-era disinfectant, like a large Laundromat.

I cannot judge how much he was in conflict with the law. His trial displayed a profuse lack of knowledge. He was condemned far too severely. There was no clemency in the execution of the prison sentence, and it was not reduced for good conduct.

Eventually, the radical enacting of real incidents was largely given up by all of the four Actionists, including myself. After Brus had performed his powerful sadomasochistic actions, in 1970 he became a genius poet of images, his drawn action fantasies blazing out from his pages. Meanwhile, Schwarzkogler left much unanswered at the time of his death in 1969, but the abstract form of his work convinced us. I continued to develop my Orgien Mysterien Theater. Otto did not choose an easy path: He hardly ever compromised. Within his social/depth-psychology/therapeutic projects, art came into being.

We four Actionists influenced each other strongly. We needed each other a lot. How important Otto was to us is certain. His death shook me to the core.

Hermann Nitsch is an artist based in Austria.