Valie Export made a lot of pioneering work. She abandoned her family name and instead adopted the ‘identity’ of a cigarette pack. But she first gained notoriety when she sauntered around an art cinema in Munich wearing crotchless pants and brandishing a machine gun. Not surprisingly the audience fled.
The present exhibition consists of her installation at the Venice Biennale in 1980.Gurburtenbett (Birth Bed). A partial torso lies on a rusty old bed in a pose suggestive of giving birth. Dramatic red neon tubes point directly at the critical juncture. In place of a head there is a monitor which plays a looped recording of a catholic priest saying mass. While it is clear that conventional beauty has never been an aim for Export, this piece has a crudeness that is really quite unpleasant.
On the other hand the photographic pieces are remarkably graceful. She lies in the street curving her body to fit the contours of the curb. As she wrote in 2018 ‘Since the beginning of the 1970s, I have addressed – through actions, photography and dating – the subject of representing body posture as an expression of inner states’.
Valie Export has been a courageous and prolific artist for a long time now.This is an exhibition worth seeing.
Valie Export is at Thaddaeus Ropac, 37 Dover Street, London W1S 4NJ until 25 January
Valie Export ‘The 1980 Venice Biennale Works is at Thaddaeus Ropac, 37 Dover Street, London E1S 4NJ until 25 January