The dichotomy between art as cognition and as action dates back to negotiations that took place between Kant on one side of the divide and Schiller, Schelling and Hegel on the other. Adorno, in his attack on inartistic art’s party-political alliances, sought to anchor the political dimension in the very core of the work of art: “Das Asoziale der Kunst ist bestimmte Negation der bestimmten Gesellschaft.” [The asocial in art is the definite negation of the definite society.] (Theodor W. Adorno)
In the reception of the classic avant-garde a tendency was already discernible to recast “the political dimension, which was part and parcel of the concept of avant-garde, as a dilemma of its protagonists” (Karl-Heinz Barck). In the case of the Viennese avant-gardes after 1945, a great deal of emphasis was on utopian elements and, even more so, on totalitarian elements, as in the case of Otto Muehl. These are particularly in evidence in the Wiener Architekturmanifeste [Viennese Architectural Manifestos].
A notorious dilemma in aesthetic theory is the tension between the postulated autonomy of art on the one hand and the call for its societal and political effectiveness on the other. The political dimensions of the Viennese avant-gardes, which competed from 1950 in the same epistemological field with the most advanced theories of the time – semiotics, psychoanalysis, the deconstruction or analysis of the dispositifs of power –, are becoming increasingly apparent in retrospect: “The real legacy of the Wiener Gruppe are the critique of the state and of reality through the critique of language, their anti-literary and anti-artistic concepts of literature and/or of art, their anti-statist and anti-authoritarian attitudes, their habitual transgression of the boundaries between the genres and between art and life.” (Peter Weibel)
There is no evidence of explicit gender consciousness in post-war Austria. Even though Maria Lassnig had been experimenting with body-oriented painting from the 1950s, no one was prepared to follow her example. It was left to Valie Export to proclaim a highly focussed variant of feminism, which made an issue of the female body and its role in art and society through spectacular performances and demonstrated the extent to which it was the object of discrimination.
The most crucial questions dealt with by this panel were:
What interventions by the Viennese avant-gardes may retrospectively be interpreted as acts of resistance, transgression or of utopian speculative thought?
What – if any – relationship links the development of the Viennese avant-gardes between 1960 and 1975 to the tendencies to put “high” and “low” on the same level, the spread of the pop-culture aesthetic and the socio-critical attitudes of sub- and counter-cultures?
What differences in the perception and significance of the Viennese avant-gardes are discernible between 1950/60/70 and today?