Otto Muehl, 1925-2013


Otto Muehl, the provocative Austrian painter and cofounder of the Viennese Actionist movement, died Sunday in Portugal at the age of 87. A far-left liberal who continually rebelled against esthetic and social boundaries, Muehl was surrounded by controversy in both his art and personal life.

Graphic performance pieces that desecrated naked bodies, as well as canvases covered in blood and excrement, were typical features of Muehl’s artwork from the 1960s. His later paintings were equally controversial-a painting that portraed Mother Teresa engaged in an orgy was removed from an exhibition at Secession, Vienna, in 1998.

Muehl founded the infamous Friedrichshof Commune, a sectlike group that encouraged sexual freedom and discouraged materialism, outside Vienna in 1972. The community collapsed two decades later, when Muehl was convicted in 1991 of multiple illegal activities including drug use, rape and sexual relations with minors, according to multiple sources including Reuters and the Associated Press. Muehl moved to Portugal after serving seven years in an Austrian prison. 

In recent years, the artist had been suffering from Parkinson’s disease and heart problems, according to the Austrian Independent. According to Daniele Roussel, the head of the Muehl archives, he died “peacefully in a circle of friends,” she told the Austria Press Agency.