Birgit Jürgenssen

Born and educated in Vienna, Jürgenssen died prematurely at the age of fifty-four. Her artwork received scant attention during her lifetime; however, recent monographs by Gabriele Schor and Abigail Solomon-Godeau have begun to spread awareness of the depth and breadth of Jürgenssen’s artistic achievement. Growing up in the era of über-expressionist Viennese Actionism and coming of age in a conservative, male-dominated Viennese art world, Jürgenssen developed an extraordinarily rich private studio practice that encompassed drawing, performance, photography, and sculpture.

Jürgenssen’s drawings from the late 1960s reach into psychedelic pop culture, with fluffy, Lorax-like trees and Yellow Submarine–style cartoon characters rendered in exquisite detail and color. In the early 1970s, she developed a surrealist trajectory that provoked further dreamlike vistas. Issues of gender are apparent in Jürgenssen’s photographic works, sculptures, and drawings from every period. One such example includes her 1976 shoe work, Untitled (wedding shoe). The scuffed white shoe, adorned in symbolic matrimonial attire of a veil and artificial flowers, is displayed within a glass vitrine on top of a bed of sand, potentially implying seduction and sadism, presentation and confinement.

Her self-portraits often represent hybrid human forms, showing the female body adapted and armored, debunking gender codes and roles such as in Nest (1979/2002), which features a nest filled with two small eggs sitting between Jürgenssen’s crossed and sheer-stockinged legs. Meanwhile her Stoffarbeiten (fabric works) also allude to this hybridization. Consisting of photographic prints mounted on canvas and attached to iron frames, these works juxtapose imagery of human figures and other forms. Examples include Houdini (1990) and Vertigo II (1994).

Jürgenssen studied at the University of Applied Arts, Vienna, in 1968–71. A solo exhibition of her drawings took place at Graphische Sammlung, Albertina, Vienna, in 1978. Between 1980 and 1997, she lectured in Vienna at the University of Applied Arts and then the Academy of Fine Arts. Understanding of Jürgenssen’s work has been nurtured by Galerie Hubert Winter, Vienna, since 1981. Recent retrospective solo exhibitions include MAK, School of Applied Arts, Vienna, 2004; Sammlung Verbund, Vienna, 2009; and the Bank Austria Kunstforum, Vienna, 2010–11.

Selected Artworks

June 19, 2017

Why Old Women Have Replaced Young Men as the Art World’s Darlings

Artsy Editorial by Anna Louie Sussman

Seeing the retrospective in Paris convinced McCaffrey, the longtime collector and gallerist, that he needed to bring her (Carol Rama) work to the U.S. market. He mounted a show of nearly 50 works from between 1938 and 1945 in September 2016. “Unless you have recognition in the U.S., you don’t really have a market,” he says. “We showed Ramas this time last year in Basel and Americans had no awareness.” This year, his booth at Art Basel in Basel placed Rama alongside the Gutai artist Kazuo Shiraga, as both artists’ work addressed life under totalitarianism by seeking to liberate the body and its functions. Read More
June 16, 2017

Gutai’s spectacular rise—and potential fall

The Art Newspaper by Matthew Wilcox

Crucial in Gutai’s sudden boom, in McCaffrey’s view, was the fact that the group had essentially been ignored in the US since the 1950s. “Look at the market for Italian post-war work, or back to the late 1980s, when the German Neo-Expressionists started to make an impact in the US. There are these discrepancies in information and knowledge that pop up.” Read More