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Mühl (Otto) papers, circa 1918-circa 1997
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Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Descriptive Summary
  • Biographical / Historical Note
  • Other Finding Aids note
  • Administrative Information
  • Related Archival Materials
  • Scope and Content of Collection
  • Indexing Terms

  • Descriptive Summary

    Title: Otto Mühl papers
    Date (inclusive): circa 1918-circa 1997
    Number: 2011.M.38
    Creator/Collector: Mühl, Otto
    Physical Description: 47.79 Linear Feet (108 boxes)
    The Getty Research Institute
    Special Collections
    1200 Getty Center Drive, Suite 1100
    Los Angeles 90049-1688
    URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10020/askref
    (310) 440-7390
    Abstract: 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 Materials: Request access to the physical materials described in this inventory through the catalog record  for this collection. Click here for the access policy .
    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 Totalrevolution .
    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.

    Administrative Information


    Open for use by qualified researchers, except for unreformatted audiovisual material.

    Publication Rights

    Preferred Citation

    Otto Mühl papers, circa 1918-circa 1997, The Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles, Accession no. 2011.M.38.

    Processing History

    Isabella Zuralski processed the collection and wrote the finding aid in 2013.

    Existence and Location of Copies

    The audio recording AAM 1 Aktions Analytische Musik Musikalische Selbstdarstellungen 1974/75 (1975) was digitized in 2013 and is available online: http://hdl.handle.net/10020/2011m38b103av 

    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 Commune.

    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 1991.
    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: Series I. Family papers, 1916-1995 (bulk 1942-1960); Series II. Early drawings and writings, circa 1930-1958, undated; Series III. Correspondence, 1960-1997, undated; Series IV. Court documents, 1948-1979, undated; Series V. Manuscripts, 1960-1997, undated; Series VI. Photographs and negatives, 1963-1988, undated; Series VII. Sketchbooks, 1979-1997, undated; Series VIII. Publications, 1921, 1961-1997, undated.

    Indexing Terms

    Subjects - Names

    Kren, Kurt
    Wiener, Oswald
    Weiermair, Oswald
    Weibel, Peter
    Stocker, Erika
    Kunzelmann, Dieter
    Duhm, Dieter
    Brus, Günter

    Subjects - Corporate Bodies

    P.A.P. Kunstagentur (Firm)
    Germany. Reichsarbeitsdienst
    Friedrichshof (Zurndorf, Austria)

    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
    Photographs, Original
    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))
    Mühl, Otto
    P.A.P. Kunstagentur (Firm)
    Aktions-Analytische Organisation
    Hoffenreich, Ludwig
    Brus, Günter
    Duhm, Dieter
    Weibel, Peter
    Weiermair, Oswald
    Wiener, Oswald
    Stenzel, Hans-Christof
    Kunzelmann, Dieter
    Mühl, Wilma