Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Roma opens an exhibition of works by Wolfgang Stoerchle

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Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Roma opens an exhibition of works by Wolfgang Stoerchle
ARRHYTHMICS, Wolfgang Stoerchle (1944–1976). Exhibition view. Photo: Agnese Bedini and Melania Dalle Grave of DSL Studio.

ROME.- Wolfgang Stoerchle (1944–1976) is the first atypical figure presented at MACRO in the ARRHYTHMICS column of Museum for Preventive Imagination, a series of exhibition workshops to investigate personalities that have blurred the boundaries between disciplines, movements and generations, or have assumed erratic perspectives with respect to conventional canons. This solo exhibition gathers significant works by the artist for the first time in an Italian museum, in order to illuminate his unconventional life and work.

Wolfgang Stoerchle was born in Baden-Baden, Germany in 1944, and died in a car accident in Santa Fe, New Mexico, at the age of thirty-two. He is a singular figure of the early 1970s who left a strong mark on a generation of Californian artists, especially through the production of videotapes and performances involving the use of his body as his primary material. Wolfgang’s short but intense life is surrounded by rumours, and his abrupt death may have further emphasized the myth around his life. His entire body of work was produced between 1965 and 1976, and forty-five years after he passed away his name still drifts across the West Coast art world, as his little-known work awaits a long overdue reappraisal.

So who is Wolfgang? In 1959, as a teenager, he emigrates with his family from Germany to Canada. After almost three years there, he and his brother decide to leave Toronto for Los Angeles. Fond of Westerns, they joke about doing the trip on horseback, and finally make it a reality, spending eleven months in the saddle across the United States. A few years later, the artist reclaims this journey, indicating it as his first performance. His commitment to life as a way of art thus finds an early precedent here.

In 1965, Stoerchle enters the University of Oklahoma where he studies painting, continuing his Masters at the University of California in Santa Barbara. In those years he switches from painting to sculpture and performance, culminating in his degree exhibition in June 1970—a significant marker of his new practice. With the use of his own body and those of others, he creates a performance in which plaster surfaces are broken by carrying out small actions (swinging, carrying, jumping, somersaults). The performance’s aftermath is swept into a pile and left on view for a couple of days in the exhibition space. This early interest in an aesthetic of making and undoing stays within his work until the end.

It is at this time that Allan Kaprow invites him to become one of the inaugural teachers—alongside artists such as Nam June Paik, Judy Chicago and John Baldessari at the new school of art in Los Angeles, CalArts. Very interested in new media, the young artist starts to teach classes like “Video Projects”, “Temporary Structure” and “Performance Work“ that have a lasting impact and influence upon students, including James Welling, Matt Mullican, David Salle and Eric Fischl. This is also a very prolific period for his video work and performance. His taste for using rudimentary but fundamental actions to question changing forms of state and status by carrying out a series of tasks is vividly present in all his videotapes from this time: Jumping in the Air, Shoe Piece, Crawling Out of Clothes, Dodging, Running with a Light. All of them are studio performances, produced between 1970 and 1972, and explicitly created for video with the use of the new camera of the time, the Portapak.

The use of his body as an expressive instrument becomes central in his performative work throughout his time in LA. Attempt Public Erection is an iconic example, and is performed for the first time in 1972 in Robert Irwin’s studio. In order to prepare the piece, he works with a hypnotist to attain the focus he will need for the live event. Working with clear notions such as sexuality and identity, this work locates itself at the crossroads of provocation and vulnerability.

In 1972, Stoerchle leaves Los Angeles to move to New York, where he continues to produce studio tapes and performing pieces in public. But in late 1973, no longer feeling comfortable in the city, and thinking its art scene is corrupt, he decides to pursue a spiritual path in the nature of Mexico, where he lives alone in a tent, studies his dreams and practices TaÏ Chi intensively.

In fall 1975, after some time disconnected from the art scene, he returns to Los Angeles where he performs on October 17 in John Baldessari’s studio. Posthumously titled The Last Performance, this is Stoerchle’s final piece in front of an audience before his death.

As part of a continuous revaluation of his practice and legacy, the editor Alice Dusapin, Fellow at the French Academy in Rome – Villa Médicis 2020–2021, has been leading intensive research on Wolfgang Stoerchle since 2017, and is publishing the first monograph on the artist, to be released in 2021.

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