Wiener Gruppe I: Word Association

Postwar experiments in poetry and art: revisiting the Wiener Gruppe

GR_Scharf_CMYK.jpg

Gerhard Rühm, Untitled, aus dem Projekt Concrete Poetry; Scharf, 1955, Collage, Zeitungsausschnitte auf Pappe 32 × 22 cm (courtesy: Christine König Galerie, Vienna)

Gerhard Rühm , Untitled, from the project Concrete Poetry; Scharf, 1955, collage, newspaper clippings on cardboard, 32 × 22 cm (courtesy: Christine König Galerie, Vienna)

The writings, actions and performances of the so-called ‘Wiener Gruppe’ arose within the singular, opened-vacuum-chamber context of postwar Vienna. Informal if extremely prolific collaborators, the group included, among others, architect Friedrich Achleitner, Hans Carl (H. C.) Artmann, Konrad Bayer, musician and visual artist Gerhard Rühm, and jazz musician Oswald Wiener – also all poets. Forming around 1952 out of the ashes of the so-called Art Club, they began circulating an array of experimental literary, visual and performative works in an atmosphere of close, productive intensity – one largely critical of a repressively bourgeois Viennese context.

As Rühm would later write, these were in part subjective reconstructions of the literary and art movements, supressed during the Nazi era and deemed ‘degenerate’, examples of which trickled in only slowly even after the war. This re-piecing of art history expressed itself formally through poems, sound works, theatre works and concrete and sound poetry, much of which used illustrative cut-outs, collages, and graphic-verbal assemblages. These they pitted – often sarcastically – against: traditional fairy tales, ‘vulgar’ Austrian forms of spoken vernacular, dialect pieces, puns, coded Wienerisch dialects and cultural clichés, all appropriated like verbal readymades from advertising or the news. Common to the Wiener Gruppe was an avant-la-lettre concern with the materiality of language – the word on the level of sound and image. Hence, the newspapers, crossword puzzles and obituaries of the time provided ample, quite physical fodder for a cultural critique of committed resistance. In 1953, Artmann advocated: ‘be a poet without having so much as written or spoken a single word’, striking a programmatic note and opening up the realm of ‘poetical’ acts to ‘poems’ in an expanded sense. Konrad Bayer wrote that the group’s hallmark was the ‘self-effacement of the author in favour of collaboration’; Friedericke Mayröcker (who features separately in this issue with a prose piece on Martha Jungwirth) was close by, as was Ernst Jandl, the group’s self-described ‘uncle’. Taken overall, the group also stood in a close, collaborative relation to the Viennese art of the time, such as the Hundsgruppe of the 1950s – which included Ernst Fuchs, Maria Lassnig and Arnulf Rainer – and in the 1960s, the group’s members kept close ties to the freewheeling transgressions of the Viennese Actionists.

With this context in mind, we asked Gerhard Rühm, an original member of the Wiener Gruppe, to comment on his own practice, his relationship to the group and its historical context. Artist and writer Theo Altenberg reacts to the short life of Konrad Bayer with a two-part contribution, including a poem modelled after one of Bayers’ forms and writer Ann Cotten and artist Kerstin Cmelka provide a collaborative text and image response to the Wiener Gruppe and its blind spots.

Pablo Larios is senior editor of frieze. He lives in Berlin.

Issue 12

First published in Issue 12

Dec 2013 - Feb 2014

Most Read

Ahead of ARCOMadrid this week, a guide to the best institutional shows in the city
At La Panacée, Montpellier, Nicolas Bourriaud’s manifesto for a new movement and attempt to demarcate an artistic peer...
A report commissioned by the museum claims Raicovich ‘misled’ the board; she disputes the investigation’s claims
In further news: Jef Geys (1934–2018); and Hirshhorn postpones Krzysztof Wodiczko projection after Florida shooting
If the city’s pivot to contemporary art was first realized by landmark construction, then what comes after might not...
Ignoring its faux-dissident title, this year's edition at the New Museum displays a repertoire that is folky, angry,...
An insight into royal aesthetics's double nature: Charles I’s tastes and habits emerge as never before at London’s...
In other news: Artforum responds to #NotSurprised call for boycott of the magazine; Maria Balshaw apologizes for...
At transmediale in Berlin, contesting exclusionary language from the alt-right to offshore finance
From Shanghai to Dubai, a new history charts the frontiers where underground scenes battle big business for electronic...
Hauser & Wirth Somerset, Bruton, UK
Zihan Karim, Various Way of Departure, 2017, video still. Courtesy: Samdani Art Foundation
Can an alternative arts network, unmediated by the West's commercial capitals and burgeoning arts economies of China...
‘That moment, that smile’: collaborators of the filmmaker pay tribute to a force in California's film and music scenes...
In further news: We Are Not Surprised collective calls for boycott of Artforum, accuses it of 'empty politics'; Frida...
We Are Not Surprised group calls for the magazine to remove Knight Landesman as co-owner and withdraw move to dismiss...
Paul Thomas Anderson's latest film is both gorgeous and troubling in equal measure
With Zona Maco opening in the city today, a guide to the best exhibitions across the Mexican capital
The question at the heart of Manchester Art Gallery’s artwork removal: what are the risks when cultural programming...
In further news: Sonia Boyce explains removal of Manchester Art Gallery’s nude nymphs; Creative Scotland responds to...
Ahead of the India Art Fair running this weekend in the capital, a guide to the best shows to see around town
The gallery argues that the funding body is no longer supportive of institutions that maintain a principled refusal of...
The Dutch museum’s decision to remove a bust of its namesake is part of a wider reconsideration of colonial histories,...
At New York’s Metrograph, a diverse film programme addresses a ‘central problem’ of feminist filmmaking
Ronald Jones pays tribute to a rare critic, art historian, teacher and friend who coined the term Post-Minimalism
In further news: curators rally behind Laura Raicovich; Glasgow's Transmission Gallery responds to loss of Creative...
Nottingham Contemporary, UK
‘An artist in a proud and profound sense, whether he liked it or not’ – a tribute by Michael Bracewell
Ahead of a show at Amsterdam’s EYE Filmmuseum, how the documentarian’s wandering gaze takes in China’s landscapes of...
In further news: Stedelijk explains why it cancelled Ettore Sottsass retrospective; US National Gallery of Art cancels...
With 11 of her works on show at the Musée d'Orsay, one of the most underrated artists in modern European history is...
Reopening after a two-year hiatus, London’s brutalist landmark is more than a match for the photographer’s blockbuster...
What the Google Arts & Culture app tells us about our selfie obsession
At a time of #metoo fearlessness, a collection of female critics interrogate their own fandom for music’s most...
A rare, in-depth interview with fashion designer Jil Sander

Latest Magazines

frieze magazine

November - December 2017

frieze magazine

January - February 2018

frieze magazine

March 2018