The important German curator, museum director, collector and gallerist René Block has been invited by Agnes and Karlheinz Essl to curate an exhibition from the holdings of the Essl Collection. With >A Little Might Music . . . Report from the Depot<, Block seeks to juxtapose the curator´s feeling of powerlessness to the power of images. Artistic trends of 1960s Austria such as Viennese Actionism, avant-garde tendencies as well as their later impacts will be the main focus.
René Block has already combined many roles in the international art world and his résumé contains the essential key elements of recent German art history, in which he has been decisively involved. He opened his first gallery in Berlin as a 22-year-old, with the exhibition “Neodada, Pop, Decollage, Kapitalistischer Realismus”. In 1974 Block established his New York gallery on 409, West Broadway, in Soho. He started with an action by Joseph Beuys with the title “I like America and America likes me”, in which Beuys locked himself up inside the gallery with a coyote for four days – an undertaking, that took him to the limits of his physical and psychological capacity. Although René Block primarily dedicated himself to the Fluxus artists in his New York gallery, he conceived an exhibition in 1977 with the title “The spirit of Vienna”, which focused on works by Austrian artists. There were numerous implications with many of the Austrian creatives who had had to leave Austria in the 1960s and 1970s and found an exile in West Berlin; accordingly Block shared an apartment in Berlin with H. C. Artmann for a year. Christian Ludwig Attersee had also rented a place in the same house. A frequent guest was Gerhard Rühm, with whom Block worked closely together on exhibitions and soirées.
Block later co-founded “Art Cologne”, curated biennials in Sydney and Istanbul, and for many years managed the Fridericianum Museum in Kassel and other galleries in Germany and New York. Not least he is considered as one of the most important sponsors of the German Fluxus movement who organised concerts, actions, performances and happenings with artists from the international Fluxus scene. As one of the first ones he discovered artists with nowadays sounding names and reputations, such as Gerhard Richter, Joseph Beuys, Nam June Paik and Sigmar Polke. For years part of René Block’s curatorial focus has been on southeastern Europe and Turkey; since 2004 he has also been the jury president of the Essl Art Award CEE.
With this exhibition in the Essl Museum, Block addresses the role of the curator, who experiences a feeling of powerlessness considering the flood of images; a state quite familiar to Block. Against this background he approaches a theme that has long been a blank spot on his own artistic map, when in the depot of the Essl Museum he explores what happened in the Austrian avant-garde of the 1960s. Back then Block was based in the centre of the Fluxus movement in Germany, where post-war art developed in a completely different way than in Austria.
“It is like plunging into unknown waters. Here I am not talking about the ocean of global culture, not about a clear mountain lake of a strict conception, but rather of a lake created by a dam, which has continually expanded as a result of the tributary and continues to grow, which has depths and shallows. I am talking about what is probably the largest private collection in Austria. Diving down to the bottom of it, there is a range of possible approaches for an exhibition. If I have chosen the 1960s, then it is also because my interest and involvement with art began in that very period. If I have chosen Austrian, Viennese art from the 1960s as my starting point, then it is also because I can finally deal more intensively with this important artistic parallel world to my previous practice,” says René Block.
Block’s selection is diverse but concentrated and covers the Vienna avant-garde of the 1960s, with Arnulf Rainer, Oswald Oberhuber, Maria Lassnig and the Viennese Actionists Günter Brus, Otto Muehl, Hermann Nitsch as the centre of the exhibition, as well as inventive approaches of artists such as VALIE EXPORT/Peter Weibel, C.L. Attersee, Franz West, Bruno Gironcoli, Gerhard Rühm, Rudolf Schwarzkogler and Erwin Wurm.
Marked by the collectors´ passion, the private collection of Agnes and Karlheinz Essl comprises more than 7,000 works and gives a unique overview of international contemporary art. Since the opening exhibition “The First View” by the curator Rudi Fuchs in 1999, ever new international curators have been invited to curate exhibitions from the Essl Collection. Most recently the German artist Albert Oehlen received a carte blanche for an exhibition from the collection.