Günter Brus passes away
17 | 02 – 20 | 05 | 2024
Thursday, February 15, 11 am
Friday, February 16, 7 pm
Günter Brus passes away in Graz, planned exhibition at Kunsthaus Bregenz opens on February 16
The Austrian Actionism artist Günter Brus died in Graz on February 10, 2024. Work is in full swing at Kunsthaus Bregenz, installing the major exhibition with close to 500 works from all phases of his career—the last one in which Brus was actively involved. Günter Brus will open as planned on February 16 at 7 pm and will be on view until May 20.
“The Kunsthaus Bregenz staff mourns the loss of this extraordinary artist. Brus is one of the most important positions of the postwar period, and his departure is an incomparable loss for Austria’s art history. Brus was a draftsman, Action artist, poet, intellectual—and visionary. His works bear witness to a profound examination of the themes of humanity and existence,” commented KUB Director Thomas D. Trummer in an initial response.
From early on, the artist’s works reflected his sense of difficulty and his struggles with existence. Brus used black chalk or dark graphite to depict landscapes that condense into deserted and forbidding architectural forms. In related groups of works, he created pictures on packing paper with furrowed lines running through them. Any hint of geometry or construction was thwarted right from the start. He found an even more energetic form of expression in his subsequent Informel period. Brus painted relentlessly and uninhibitedly, lashing his pictures with black paint.
In the 1960s, Brus achieved the ultimate liberation from the boundaries of painting. He hit upon a radical reinterpretation of his own body. With it, he stepped out of the frame so to speak and became a living image. His actions caused a considerable public stir, especially his participation in the 1968 Kunst und Revolution action in a lecture hall at the University of Vienna. There, Brus defecated while singing the national anthem. He didn’t shy away from crossing boundaries and breaking taboos in his efforts to encourage viewers to reflect on and gain a deeper understanding of existence. Social grievances and power relations became visible through the artist’s exposed body. As a result, Brus was repeatedly persecuted by the law. Denounced as an enemy of the state in the tabloids, he and his family fled into exile in Berlin.
After radical performances such as Zerreißprobe (1970), in which he used confrontation and reaction to have a socio-critical impact on his audience, he turned to creating picture series in which he combined his talent in the areas of text and image. His picture poems are inventive, meditative, expressive, and romantically morbid. In one of these Bild-Dichtungen, which is exhibited in Bregenz, Brus quotes the Romanian philosopher Emil Cioran. The phrase “Aufstand oder Abstand” is written like a motto on one of the sheets, in which emaciated figures populate a nightmare.
Brus addressed the theme of death throughout his life. It is a recurrent subject in his Bild-Dichtungen, and, in the last picture series he made during the pandemic—works characterized by a playful imaginativeness and ingenuity—he at times renders it in a mischievous and grotesque way.
The KUB exhibition was developed together with Günter Brus and the Bruseum at the Universalmuseum Joanneum. It pays tribute to the most important phases of his extraordinary oeuvre. “Günter Brus and his wife, Anna, contributed significantly to the selection of works, with a large share of the loans coming from their personal collection. It is an immense pity and infinitely sad that Günter Brus can no longer see the show, which opens a week after his death,” remarked Thomas D. Trummer.
The KUB exhibition presents close to five hundred works from all phases of the artist’s career. It is the last show on which the exceptional artist collaborated. Günter Brus will be on view at Kunsthaus Bregenz from February 17 to May 20, 2024.