Biographical / Historical Note
Other Finding Aids note
Related Archival Materials
Scope and Content of Collection
Title: Otto Mühl papers
Date (inclusive): circa 1918-circa 1997
47.79 Linear Feet
The Getty Research Institute
1200 Getty Center Drive, Suite 1100
Los Angeles 90049-1688
The archive of Otto Mühl, co-founder
and one of the main participants of Viennese Actionism, and founder of the living experiment
known as the Friedrichshof Commune, includes his complete diaries and a wealth of
theoretical writings about Actionism, the concept of Action Analysis, and life in a commune
as an alternative model of society. Also present is his correspondence; legal documents
relating to court proceedings against Mühl and other participants of Viennese Actionism;
approximately 1000 negatives and contact sheets of Mühl's actions taken by the Austrian
photographer Ludwig Hoffenreich; circa 165 sketchbooks with drawings and writings by Mühl;
and a collection of press reviews of Viennese Actionism published in Austrian and German
newspapers in the 1960s and 1970s. Also included is correspondence of Otto Mühl's family,
various family documents and records, hundreds of personal photographs, and Mühl's juvenile
drawings and writings.
Request access to the physical materials
described in this inventory through the
collection. Click here for the
Language: Collection material is in German.
Biographical / Historical Note
Otto Mühl, or Muehl, was one of the co-founders and participants of Viennese Actionism and
founder and mastermind of a communal living experiment known as the Friedrichshof Commune.
Born in 1925 in Grodnau, Burgenland, Austria, Mühl spent his childhood and youth with his
parents Otto and Wilma Mühl and brother Edwin, in Gols, where his father was a primary
school teacher. In 1943, he was drafted into the German Wehrmacht and took part in infantry
battles in the course of the Ardennes Offensive. His father and brother were also drafted;
only Otto Mühl and his mother Wilma survived the war.
After the war, Mühl studied German literature and history at the University of Vienna,
graduating in 1952 with a teacher's degree, and continued studies in art education and art
therapy at the Viennese Academy of Fine Arts. In 1958 he worked as an art therapist in a
home for developmentally impaired children run by the psychoanalyst Eva Rosenfeld, a pupil
of Sigmund Freud.
Meeting Günter Brus and Alfons Schilling in 1960 was a pivotal moment for Mühl, leading him
to abandon canvas painting and to experiment with three-dimensional objects made from scrap
metal which he called Gerümpelskulpturen (junk sculptures). Mühl's goal became to overcome
traditional art forms and redefine artistic creation by representing the object's
destruction process. His junk sculptures were shown in November 1961 at the gallery Junge
Generation in Vienna in an exhibition featuring Otto Mühl, Adolf Frohner and Hans
Niederbacher. His first step towards a fundamental departure from traditional art making was
the immurement action called
Die Blutorgel (Blood Organ), which Mühl
performed in 1962 together with Hermann Nitsch and Adolf Frohner in his atelier in the
Perinetgasse in Vienna. In 1963, together with Nitsch, Mühl staged the action called
Fest des psycho-physischen Naturalismus (Celebration of psycho-physical
Naturalism), during which a kitchen dresser filled with marmalade was thrown out the window.
A fourteen day arrest followed.
Mühl, Brus, Nitsch, and Rudolf Schwarzkogler departed radically from an object-based
definition of art by developing the concept of Materialaktion (material action) where the
human body and the site of art-making are the surfaces for the production of art. Mühl's
first such action, called
Versumpfung eines weiblichen Körpers Nr. 1
(Swamping of a female body no. 1) took place in 1963. During the 1960s Mühl performed
numerous material actions which were documented on film by the Austrian avant-garde
filmmaker Kurt Kren and photographed by the Austrian photographer Ludwig Hoffenreich.
In 1966, Mühl, Nitsch, and Brus accepted the invitation of the German artist Gustav
Metzger, who invented the term Auto-Destructive Art, to take part in DIAS, or Destruction In
Art Symposium, held in London. Invited by the Swiss pioneering curator and art historian
Harald Szeemann, Mühl participated in the 1970
Happening & Fluxus
exhibition in Cologne, and in 1973 in
dokumenta 5 in Kassel.
In 1967, in the second volume of
Direkte Kunst Direct Art Arte Diretta, a
booklet issued privately by Mühl and Brus, Mühl published his radical manifesto called ZOCK,
an acronym for Zealous Organisation of Candied Knights.
ZOCK outlines "in
blueprint" Mühl's credo and subsequent activities towards the destruction of the old world
and the creation of a radically new model of society. In 1971, the manifesto was published
in Munich by Franz Knödel under the title
Zock, Aspekte einer
The transgressive character of the material actions with their naked bodies, public
urination and defecation, and killing of animals scandalized the Austrian public. The
actions were criticized by the press and frequently led to court proceedings against Mühl,
Brus, and other participants. The material action
Kunst und Revolution staged
by Mühl, Brus and Oswald Wiener in 1968 at the University of Vienna ended in a two-month
prison sentence for the artists. Also in 1968, after four years, Mühl's marriage to Friedl
Neiss ended in divorce.
The 1970s marked Mühl's departure from material action and performace art in general,
especially from happenings and fluxus, towards the concept of artistic and therapeutic
self-expression which he called Aktionsanalyse (action analysis). The actions became
self-representation and therapy. In 1970, Mühl founded his first commune in the
Praterstrasse in Vienna. In 1973, the commune moved to Zurndorf in Burgenland and was named
the Friedrichshof Commune. Mühl's declared aim was a new society based on the principles of
free sexuality, common property and collective education of children, and the destruction
of, in his view, bourgeois concepts of marriage and private property. During the 1970s and
1980s Mühl wrote profusely on a wide range of topics, from the role of the artist in the
commune to criticism of state authority and the need for revolution, world peace,
psychoanalysis, homosexuality, sex, gender relations, traditional marriage, raising
children, and life in the commune as an alternative model for society. His ideas were
inspired by Marxism and psychoanalysis, particularly the writings of the Austrian
psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich.
After the early 1970s Mühl did not produce any public actions in terms of the principles
associated with Viennese Actionism. He was active as a painter in the Expressionist style
and as a teacher within the community of Friedrichshof. He also directed several short
movies. In 1988, he married Claudia Weissensteiner.
The commune was economically successful. A rural property acquired in 1986 on the Spanish
Canary Island La Gomera was intended to realize a southern paradise and served as a domicil
for vacationing and retirement. Mühl's authoritarian tendencies caused conflicts and rifts
and in 1991, after 21 years of existence, the Friedrichshof Commune broke up. Accused of
sexual abuse of minors, Mühl was sentenced to seven years in prison. While serving his
sentence at the Stein detention center he produced a wealth of drawings and writings about
art theory. Since his release in 1997, he has lived in Southern Portugal.
Despite suffering from Parkinsons disease, Mühl continued to paint and make films. Since
1998 he has had two solo exhibitions at the Museum für angewandte Kunst in Vienna, and in
2010 at the Leopold Museum in Vienna. In 2010, Mühl issued a public apology regarding the
role he played in the Friedrichshof Commune. Otto Mühl died on May 26, 2013.
Other Finding Aids note
Ten publications, one auction catalog, and one sound recording are cataloged separately but
form part of the archive. Their individual records can be searched under the Accession no.
2011.M.38 or the Provenance phrase Otto Mühl Collection.
Open for use by qualified researchers, except for unreformatted audiovisual material.
Otto Mühl papers, circa 1918-circa 1997, The Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles,
Accession no. 2011.M.38.
Isabella Zuralski processed the collection and wrote the finding aid in 2013.
Existence and Location of Copies
Related Archival Materials
The Harald Szeemann papers (accn. 2011.M.30 ) at the Getty Research Library include
materials related to Otto Mühl, among others circa 200 color slides and transparencies of
material actions Mühl performed during the 1960s, correspondence between Szeemann and
Hermann Nitsch concerning Mühl, as well as press clippings and letters to Szeemann from
various people regarding the 1991 arrest of Mühl and his role at the Friedrichshof
Scope and Content of Collection
The archive contains material dating as early as 1918 to 1997 documenting the artistic
output of Otto Mühl and the history of his family. The bulk of the material concerns Mühl's
performance art from the 1960s, the so-called material actions; his theoretical writings
about Actionism and the social experiment the Friedrichshof Commune, dating predominantly
from the 1970s; and hundreds of drawings Mühl produced throughout his life and most
intensely during the first half of the 1990s while serving his prison term.
Series I documents the history of the Mühl family. There is a wealth of correspondence
between various family members; hundreds of vintage photographs from the 1920s, 1930s, and
the 1940s in Nazi-occupied Austria; as well as original school records, ID cards, and other
official documents. The material presents a unique resource for the study of the changing
social and political conditions in Austria, especially in the region of Burgenland, in the
first half on the 20th century. Most of the material in this series concerns Mühl's mother
Wilma Mühl. Impressively extensive is the lifelong correspondence of mother and son.
Series II consists of Otto Mühl's early drawings and juvenile writings, his high school and
university course notes, and diaries dating from 1942 to 1958. Diaries dating from 1967 to
1997 form part of Series V.
Series III comprises Otto Mühl's correspondence: letters sent between 1964 and 1973 to
promote Actionism; various correspondence dating between 1960 and 1996; and photocopies of
letters sent from prison between 1991 and 1997. The letters sent to promote Actionism detail
the controversial reception of Mühl's material actions and are rich in detail regarding his
theoretical approach towards Actionism as an art form, and his own artistic goals. The most
sizeable is the original exchange with Günter Brus. Its predominant portion dates from 1968
to 1971, the pivotal time when Mühl transformed the concept of artistic action into
self-expression and founded the first commune in Vienna. Another significant portion of his
correspondence is the collection of transcripts of Mühl's letters to Erika Stocker. "Erika
Briefe" form an intense journal of Viennese Actionism and trace the progression of Mühl's
art from junk sculptures and destruction of canvas to the material action.
Series IV is a collection of legal documents, interspersed with correspondence, relating to
court proceedings against Mühl and other participants of Viennese Actionism, seizure of
films by Kurt Kren, usage of illegal drugs, and the 1972 suicide happening of Hermann
Flasch. Most documents are photocopies, but original documents are also present. Extensively
documented are legal proceedings following the action
Kunst und Revolution,
performed in 1968 at the University of Vienna.
Series V consists of Mühl's handwritten or typed drafts of scripts for numerous of his
material actions, dating from 1963 to 1971; nineteen diaries dating from 1967 to 1997; and a
wealth of unpublished writings on Actionism and Action Analysis dating from 1960 to 1997 and
proliferating during the 1970s. Also present are drafts for book projects, including the not
realized book "Die wilden 60er" and screenplay "Freud's Träume", and Mühl's autobiography
Weg aus dem Sumpf, published in 1977, as well as drafts for a revision from
The core of Series VI is more than 1000 negatives and contact sheets the Austrian
photographer Ludwig Hoffenreich took of Mühl's material actions performed between 1963 and
1969, and other actionist events, most of which until now have been unavailable for
research. Also present are approximately 300 negatives of analytical actions taking place at
the Friedrichshof Commune; a few photographs of Mühl with communards; and several
photographic portraits of Mühl, taken by Philippe Dutartre.
Series VII are sketchbooks produced between 1979 and 1997. About 165 sketchbooks are
present, including 110 hardbound volumes dating from 1979 to 1991, and circa fifty-five
small unbound volumes and loose leaf drawings in wrappers, dating from 1991 to 1997. The
sketchbooks also contain theoretical essays about the arts and the creative process,
commentary and analysis of artwork by other artists, and personal and philosophical
reflections on life. Mühl's drawings from the 1990s have a strongly sexualized content.
Series VIII consists of reviews of material actions and experimental film screenings
published in Austrian and German press between 1961 to 1975; several privately issued
publications on Actionism and the Friedrichshof Commune; printed ephemera; and a handful of
books formerly owned by Mühl.
Arranged in eight series:
Family papers, 1916-1995 (bulk 1942-1960);
Series II. Early drawings and
writings, circa 1930-1958, undated;
Series III. Correspondence,
Series IV. Court documents,
Manuscripts, 1960-1997, undated;
Series VI. Photographs and
negatives, 1963-1988, undated;
Series VII. Sketchbooks, 1979-1997,
Series VIII. Publications, 1921,
Subjects - Names
Subjects - Corporate Bodies
Subjects - Topics
Artists -- Austria -- Correspondence
Performance art -- Austria
Communal living -- Austria
Subjects - Places
Burgenland (Austria) -- Social life and customs
Genres and Forms of Material
Picture postcards -- Germany -- 20th century
Photographic postcards -- Austria -- 20th century
Photographic postcards -- Germany -- 20th century
Christmas cards -- Austria -- 20th century
Long-playing records -- Austria -- 20th century
Picture postcards -- Austria -- 20th century
Picture postcards -- Hungary -- 20th century
Drawings -- Austria -- 20th century
Color photographs -- Austria -- 20th century
Black-and-white negatives -- Austria -- 20th century
Photographic prints -- Austria -- 20th century
Black-and-white photographs -- Austria -- 20th century
Contact sheets -- Austria -- 20th century
Sketchbooks -- Austria -- 20th century
Dutartre, Philippe ((Photographer))