The enfant terrible of contemporary art Günter Brus, the last representative of Viennese actionism, died at the age of 85, we learned on Sunday from the Viennese museum dedicated to this radical and provocative movement of after war. “He died on Saturday,” a spokesperson for the establishment which will open its doors in March told AFP, confirming information from the APA press agency.

Born on September 27, 1938, Günter Brus was the only one of the four actionist performers still alive. He lived in Graz, in eastern Austria, where a museum is dedicated to him. “Günter Brus is certainly one of the rare Austrian artists to have such an international stature. It is impossible to imagine the history of art without him,” its director Roman Grabner told AFP in September, during a retrospective for the artist’s 85th birthday.

With Otto Mühl, Hermann Nitsch and Rudolf Schwarzkogler, he founded “Body Art, as it was later called,” in the 1960s, Mr. Grabner explained at the time. “He also took a more radical step by forgoing all painting materials and working only with his own body, to the breaking point.” In one of his most notable actions, he crossed Vienna completely covered in white paint and cut in two by a black line, before being arrested by the police. He also urinated, defecated and masturbated in public while singing the national anthem. A radicalism little appreciated in his time, which earned him a six-month prison sentence for “insulting the symbols of the State”.

To escape this sentence, the artist went on the run in the middle of the night with his wife Anna and their little daughter, taking refuge in 1969 in Berlin where he remained for a few years. “In Austria, we could no longer do anything,” he justified himself during an interview at the Viennese Belvedere Museum in 2018. His last performance took place in 1970 in Munich, when he lacerated his skin with blows. razor blade. He then devoted himself to drawing and painting, while developing a literary work that was just as non-consensual.

The actionists, seeking a cathartic effect, are also children of war who cannot stand Austrian society, hiding its never-tried Nazi crimes under the tourist gilding of the imperial palaces. According to Günter Brus, “Vienna, like all of Austria, was contaminated by aging Nazis”, while the native country of Adolf Hitler had long repressed its responsibility. Hence the extreme reaction of actionists, today rehabilitated by art historians.