Double Lives and Other Relationships

Christian Höller

Double Lives and Other Relationships

Interactions and Boundary Shifts Between the Fine Arts and Music from the 1960s to the 1980s

The history of the manifold relations between the fine arts and music, or between various artists’ visual practices and musical ventures, as addressed in this exhibition, cannot simply be read as a sequence of direct correspondences. In other words, it cannot be envisaged as an artistic trigger, motif or initial attitude that is subsequently—by means of a media-based transformation—expressed musically (whether in experimental, amateur or eclectic form). Throughout the long history of relations between art and music, readings that identify unambiguous correspondences between one field’s forms and materials and those of the other, or even appear to reproduce these, have proven scarcely tenable.

Conversely, terms such as “context switch” or “double lives” have begun to gain ground over the past decade,[1] undoubtedly making it easier to describe the interplay between the various fields. The focus here will be primarily on interactions, pathways and shifting boundaries, reflecting the multidimensionality of artistic/musical production these terms delineate, a multidimensionality that could assume the most varied forms at different times and was usually accompanied by a certain displacement effect. Such a displacement or transposition entails methodological approaches that are not simply reflected or copied in the other field; on the contrary, these strategies first and foremost adopt new tactics, heading towards foreign terrain, sparking irreversible shifts in boundaries, even producing complex blended forms based on interactions between media. There are “double lives” in the sense that, rather than two isolated, parallel fields of action, a series of underground, rhizomatic connections are at work and leave their mark on both areas (starting point: art/end product: music or sometimes vice-versa).

This essay will look at selected European and American art and music scenes from the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s as illustrations of this phenomenon. While there were still relatively few examples of artists working in both fields in the first half of the twentieth century, they had ceased to be a rarity by the mid-1960s, as the Doppelleben/Double Lives exhibition reveals. That timeframe also forms the starting point for this exhibition project, in as much as Double Lives is implicitly based on a longer backstory. Curator Eva Badura-Triska first encountered the phenomenon of visual artists making music in connection with the first Heimo Zobernig retrospective at mumok in Vienna, which she organised in 2002, and invited me to write an essay for the catalogue exploring Zobernig’s musical activities and references in his visual work to punk, noise and new wave.[2] This was followed in 2008 by the Bad Painting exhibition, curated by Badura-Triska with Susanne Neuburger, and also shown at mumok in Vienna. Originally sections on intentional “badness” in media other than painting (especially music) were envisaged but that aspect was not realized in the show. My comments below are grounded in my research from that time, again at Badura-Triska’s invitation, into interactions between the fine arts and 1970s and 1980s pop or experimental music.

My argument is that the spectrum of works represented in Double Lives can be understood against the backdrop of the border-displacement modi depicted here, with experimental pathways into “extrinsic” areas and the interactions thus sparked. It goes without saying that these interactions affect both fields, yet often, as many exhibits testify, configurations also emerge within a shared third format that cannot be reduced entirely to the fine arts or to (pop) music as the desired destination. As the exhibition also reveals, these “third” loci generated hugely powerful impetuses that altered the entire area. That significantly changed the face of (pop) music, as well as feeding new (pop) musical sensitivities, en masse, into artistic production. This essay will look in more detail at the mechanisms underpinning these interactions, pathways and expanded categories, using a few exemplary episodes from the period between 1965 and 1985.

Ineluctable Common Ground

Don Van Vliet, better known by his musical alias, Captain Beefheart, once said that his paintings should “hug and shake the viewer”. He continued “If a painting does not disturb me, it will end up in the trash.”[3] This concise programme reveals something akin to a common denominator that links all Van Vliet’s preferred media in equal measure—music, painting and, last but not least, poetry (lyrics). Affecting listeners and viewers physically, in a sense, sending them into convulsions if possible, and using your own sense of disturbance as a yardstick were precisely the tactics that Captain Beefheart’s blues and rock destructions had pursued energetically since his first mid-1960s recordings. In the 1968 performance on Cannes beach that is shown in the Double Lives exhibition, shaking up the audience was precisely the Magic Band’s goal as it furiously distorted and fragmented the two pieces “Electricity” and “Sure ’Nuff ’n Yes I Do”. A kind of rhythmically structured painting, aggressively playing off the tone colours against each other, and eminently danceable (even if the audience on the promenade in Cannes largely seem to have resisted the temptation to try out their dance moves).

As a multidisciplinary artist, Van Vliet has always worked in several media simultaneously, although his public persona was long dominated exclusively by the musical figure Captain Beefheart. A number of early oil-drip paintings (such as the cryptic, agitated Ghost Red Wire from 1967) bear witness to this, as do the paintings by Van Vliet that sporadically appeared on record covers, such as the landscape with an abstract bird-like insect on the back cover of Lick My Decals Off, Baby (1970) or the two wild-headed animal-human hybrids in the painting Green Tom (1976), which adorns the cover of the 1978 LP Shiny Beast (Bat Chain Puller). Released ten years after Beefheart’s Cannes performance, Shiny Beast is just as replete with distorted rhythm and melody as his debut album, Safe as Milk, which included the two songs in the Cannes video. The “shiny beasts” on the cover are congenial harbingers of what the album tracks act out, right down to their most minute, unruly and iridescent details.

Distinctions have sometimes been drawn between Van Vliet’s two practices:[4] one (music) is composed according to strict rules, making it conceptual, while the other, in contrast, is spontaneous and in a sense intuitive; one (painting) can be modified, painted over or erased again and again, while the other is laid down once and for all in a recording. Although one aspect or another may seem more dominant in particular pieces, these criteria can in principle be applied to all his works. They seem linked by Beefheart/Van Vliet’s idea of a physical affect, which (as mentioned above) aims to hug and shake the audience and sets store by preserving his own sense of disturbance, as an artistic principle that underlies his painting, music and poetry to an equal degree.

The following references to further exemplary overlaps are not intended simply to validate an artistic genealogy of the raw, untamed and undisciplined (a genealogy that may in part have been translated from the fine arts into music). Over and above this, they also reveal the core of an ineluctable common ground that has long characterized musical and painterly productions, as well as cinematic, literary or design work, in certain urban scenes in the West. Don Van Vliet’s artistic double and triple lives bear eloquent witness to the way in which the ugly, brute, unruly, even the repellent and obnoxious increasingly began to find their way into music and art from the late 1960s on. This was an era in which intensified use of disharmony, the atonal, or an obtuse insistence on your own spirit of contradiction became hallmarks that transcended several fields, as witnessed in numerous other production contexts that do not fit neatly into schematic media or genre categorisations. In this context, the music seems to spring from what is in any event a jumbled-up melange, while the pathways taking shape within it initially head for unoccupied new territory. This virgin territory may in some cases be completely disconnected from the fine arts, or at least temporarily separated from that field.[5] In keeping with this, many of the works represented in Double Lives appear undisciplined when considered from today’s perspective—perhaps no surprise, given that breaking out of discipline(s) was one of the guiding principles for many of these productions.

Ann Arbor Blues

Los Angeles, or rather the Californian desert, where Don Van Vliet created his painterly and musical forms in the late 1960s and 1970s, was only one of the epicentres of what could be described as the historical complex of these breakthroughs and moves to occupy virgin territory. Detroit, Michigan, to be more precise, the Art Department at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor was another such testing ground where the recalcitrant and dissonant, and even anti-virtuosity were explored in music, painting, film, graphic art, and other fields in the early 1970s. The band Destroy All Monsters, named after a Japanese horror film and consisting of Mike Kelley, Cary Loren, Niagara (Lynn Rovner), and Jim Shaw, formed one of these experimental set ups that aimed, starting from its dark flip-side, to radically revamp then predominant forms of rock music, going against the grain of all aesthetic reason. Kelley has commented that his fellow student Jim Shaw’s painting practice was an important source of inspiration for the largely noise-oriented music-making. Shaw preferred to use the dregs of discarded oil paint or the brownish mixture that collected at the bottom of the pots used to wash the paint brushes.[6] Applied to old, found materials and mixed with collaged advertising motifs, this type of image-creation served as a blueprint in opening up a new dimension of profound “trashiness” in 1970s music. This fundamental idea was reflected in individual band members’ artistic practices (such as Niagara’s bleak drawings or Loren’s film, photo, text, and comic works, which were strongly influenced by Jack Smith),[7] just as it found a collective outlet in the Destroy All Monsters’ sound when they pooled their energy in performances.[8]

Yet the “enthroned chaos” of the Monsters music—a typical song title was “To the Throne of Chaos Where the Thin Flutes Pipe Mindlessly”—was by no means merely a matter of spontaneity and expressiveness (in the way that free jazz and Abstract Expressionism, for example, could be bracketed together in the early 1960s). Nor was it solely about mind-expanding freak-outs or a cosmic search for truth (as expressed in the late-1960s combination of acid rock and psychedelic fantasy art). Although it did encompass elements like these (along with many others), the Monsters’ sound was constructed on a far more pioneering foundation that was manifested in the band members’ individual fine art practice as well as in their joint musical expression: preferring to deliberately “miss the mark” or emphatically embrace ugly colour combinations rather than falling into the clutches of any kind of virtuosity or the formulaic. After all, it is better to use your own (modest) technical means to process all the fragmented detritus of popular and mass culture scattered around than to be submissively smothered by it or think you are above all that. In this spirit, far from the glare of publicity, Destroy All Monsters created, figuratively speaking, musical paintings—or perhaps it would be better to call them painterly installations—that you perhaps cannot really dance to but which triggered significant movements between art and (noise) music.

This kind of “media hopping”—painting with what amounts to musical means, making music with approaches adopted from painting—would occur frequently, especially in the run-up to and aftermath of what were dubbed the “punk years” (1976/1977). Parallel to the rather insular experimental set-up that Mike Kelley and Co. had created in Ann Arbor, similar arrangements also began to take shape in Cleveland, Ohio between 1972 and 1976. Drawing on the local scene, which was centred around a number of art departments, a loose group formed, made up of rebellious drop-outs and misfits, who subsequently increasingly mutated into musicians and, with hindsight, number among the most important pioneers of the punk aesthetic, both musically and in its visual manifestations.[9] The extent to which the style of groups like Rocket from the Tombs, Electric Eels, Mirrors or Pere Ubu had affinities to art or rather “stood out” decisively from the art of their day is apparent even in the way they were labelled at the time as “anti-music” or “art terrorism”, central traits of a resolutely anti-idealistic view of art. Approaches from art practice had begun to seep into a radical musical practice here, even if they were often no longer immediately recognizable as such.

New York Noise

The combination of anti-virtuosity with a simultaneous emphasis on particular urgency—the insistence that one’s own concerns and attitude to life simply find no outlet in public and social life—would also become the hallmark of a phenomenon that is central to the genealogy of artistic-musical interactions, variously designated as “New York noise”, “the downtown scene” or the “no wave” movement.[10] No wave represents a more comprehensive nexus that nowadays is often conflated with punk. By 1978, the emergent no wave movement had already left behind punk’s specifically New York flair, which was associated with various concert bars between 1973 and 1977,[11]and evolved into a much more implacable confrontation with the atonal and disharmonic. The fine arts, performance, poetry, music and film formed the branches of this creative nexus on an equal footing, although with slight leanings towards music and film, especially on the part of fine artists.[12]

The band Suicide played a decisive pioneering role in this context, for one of the duo, Alan Bermowitz (Vega), had been active as an artist since the 1960s. In 1970 he began to develop a minimalist and confrontational stage concept together with keyboardist Martin Rev, whose transgressive input formed an important pathway towards the later new wave and post-punk movement. Suicide long embodied a type of hard-to-classify one-off that existed parallel to the “more conventional” punk scene—until at the end of the decade, artists of many different persuasions began joining forces to form bands and implement concepts that could not be subsumed into any clear-cut movement: no wave, in a nutshell. Ericka Beckman’s film 135 Grand Street, shot in 1979 in a private New York loft, brings together many of these artists’ bands and gives a wonderful glimpse of the cult of dissonance and disparity that held sway back then. (Even the involvement of “real” musicians like Glenn Branca, performing here in The Static with Barbara Ess and Christine Hahn, does not detract from the kind of “shredder minimalism” that prevailed at the time).

Like other films from that era (such as Black Box by Beth B & Scott B from 1978), 135 Grand Street is an eloquent document from the no wave context, in which an element of media-based transmission and interconnection—between music and film, but also between the fine arts and poetry—comes into play.[13] Although in many cases this transmission was only recognized as such with hindsight, it certainly broke new ground, especially in completely dissolving genre boundaries, a process that had not fully taken effect previously. It was in this spirit that a few years later (in 1981) Jean-Michel Basquiat, still largely undiscovered, would roam New York’s bombed-out-looking Lower East Side as a young, penniless artist in the film Downtown 81.[14] Like many other painters in the downtown scene, Basquiat was also involved in a band project (by the name of Gray) and worked as a music producer, which can certainly be seen as an extension of his pictorial production.[15] It was obvious that resistant signs that were in a sense gleaned on the street would expand into the pluri-dimensional space of multi-disciplinary art, in as much as the kind of painting and music that Basquiat, for example, produced were rooted in a shared milieu that offered scope for an even more emphatic shattering of the boundaries between various disciplines. Ironically, the “Spectacular Commodity” (song title), as The Static belted out in 135 Grand Street, consisted precisely in not wanting to create a commodity object for any kind of individual (consumer) realm.

Conversely and significantly, the entire field of what was dubbed the “downtown” scene was gripped in the early 1980s by a dynamic that impinged in a very similar fashion on music and painting. On the musical front, the explosive vehemence and experimental stylistic diversity that had held sway during the pioneering years, from 1978 to 1981, had in some cases begun to run out of steam, as was also the case with post-punk elsewhere.[16] In other cases, the energy released in that intensive phase was now being channelled into ultimately domesticating genre sub-divisions: partly filtering through into increasingly smooth, easy-listening club music, partly feeding into hip-hop, which was slowly gaining a global foothold, and finally into the noise scene, also packaged with a business-boosting label. In the case of painting, the historical process unfolded along similar, albeit much more one-dimensional, lines: While the “bad” painting of artists like Basquiat, Kenny Scharf, Lee Quinones, Julian Schnabel, and many others was initially based on ironic subversion of existing art conventions, the label “bad” soon solidified into a marketable signifier that erased any associative trace of Afro-American “cool” as a more sophisticated form of beauty on a higher plane began to emerge.[17] The negative, unfathomable and alienating dimension that the painterly and musical “bad” had initially tried to uncover was soon transformed into a force that served primarily to demonstrate vitality and expressivity. The works in question, especially the paintings, often drifted towards (virile) exhibitions of power or fashionable stylishness.

British Post-Punk

The push towards labelling and marketing that began to take hold of the cultural field in the early 1980s ultimately contributed to clearer distinctions emerging once again between art and music (and numerous sub-sectors within both fields). At the same time, the kind of border displacements described above had also occurred in other Western scenes, with music, performance, painting, film, graphic design and other areas beginning to form new conglomerates (although they often drew on one and the same source of inspiration). A number of examples from the British and continental European context reveal that these conglomerates were not media-immanent, but can instead—much more decisively—be traced back to an attitude that cut across all these areas and tapped into “external” energy.

There is no need here to recount once again the now legendary mutation of performance group COUM Transmissions into industrial pioneers Throbbing Gristle, who pulled out all the stops between 1975 and 1982 in order to live up to their malicious labelling as “wreckers of civilization”.[18] The enormously important role British art schools began to play in the 1960s for a hugely diverse range of pop music acts is also well documented.[19] One typical example is the 1977 concert film by The Pop Rivets that screens in the Double Lives exhibition, with singer Billy Childish, who had just started a course at a design college in Kent, giving free rein to his punk attitude. Other artists, such as Linder (full name: Linder Sterling) also clearly exemplify this connection. Although Linder hardly ever entered the public arena as a “painter,” the artist, who engaged mainly with graphic design and photo collage in Manchester in the mid-1970s, regarded her materials—magazine photos and scalpels—as her very own “painting tools”.[20] This mode of painting with graphic or found materials produced a series of compelling cut-up montages that became a stylistic influence on the punk and post-punk aesthetic; think, for example, of the famous image of a naked female torso with an iron in place of her head, which was the motif on the cover of the Buzzcocks’ single Orgasm Addict (1977). Moreover, this rough-around-the-edges montage technique also translated into the “angular” style of her band Ludus, which aimed to dismantle any feel-good harmony with shattered rhythms and shrill vocal outbursts. Programmatic pieces like “Anatomy Is Not Destiny” or the ironic “My Cherry Is In Sherry” helped create a pop-feminist resonance chamber that combined a general sense of distancing from the world with gender-aware self-affirmation.

One of Linder’s more bizarre works—once again in her role as cover designer—appears on the front cover of the 1978 album Real Life by post-punk band Magazine. A monoprint rather than a painting in the strict sense of the term, it depicts four strangely disfigured heads that emerge like nightmarish chimeras from a maelstrom-like background dotted with black-and-white patches. Plastered with garish colours (turquoise/green, yellow), the faces appear to have been torn off their wearers like masks, as if to reveal a reality that can only be represented by means of distorted disguise.

The cover of Kangaroo? (1981) by The Red Crayola with Art & Language portrays an even more apt example of such fiery, bold painting, although, in almost direct contradiction, the album as a whole is a classic example of conceptual artistic style being integrated into the pop-music context. With its comparatively benign and warm colour palette, the painterly motif of a Baselitz-style upside-down animal seems emblematic of the relatively serene sound of The Red Crayola’s music at the time. Mayo Thompson, who had recorded the Nine Gross and Conspicuous Errors video and the Corrected Slogans album with Art & Language in 1976, had also moved to London that year, where he became the regular producer of the Rough Trade label and would play a decisive role in tracing out further trajectories between settings that blended music and the fine arts. From 1979, the new band configuration The Red Crayola (spelt with a “c” to distinguish it from Thompson’s first psychedelic formation from the late 1960s) brought out a number of its own releases. Given Art & Language’s conceptual focus and engagement with philosophy of language, it was all the more surprising to find the epitome of a neo-expressionist image on a Red Crayola record in the early 1980s. However, perhaps this was just a zeitgeisty commentary on the style then conquering the art market or a tongue-in-check pendant to music that now sounded vastly more harmonious, albeit with lyrics still shot through with intransigently Marxist analyses (“The Mistakes of Trotsky”, “The Principles of Party Organisation” or “A Portrait of V. I. Lenin in the Style of Jackson Pollock”).

Even if music and painting (as its visual accompaniment) were starting to peel apart here, the Art & Language lyrics still formed a kind of unifying aesthetic frame, just as they were the starting point for the joint musical undertaking of Nine Gross and Conspicuous Errors. The exceptionally melodic sound of the new settings for the mini-pamphlets with their sometimes radical politics may stem from a specific dialectical dimension that has repeatedly oscillated more towards one direction or another throughout the history of relations between art and music. In any event, deliberate divergences began to appear in the artistic underpinning and musical realization of numerous post-punk projects, in ways not found in the no wave and (Detroit) anti-aesthetic phases described above. This was accompanied by a more comprehensive stylistic caesura. In the British pop environment, for example, markedly more appealing manifestations would soon begin to find their way into sound design and visual creation, from around 1982. This development temporarily counteracted the previous (and in some cases also subsequent) preference for the raw, untamed and undisciplined, even though at the time practices committed to a new, radical form of appropriation were already about to kick off in many places. Examples from the mid-1980s in the Double Lives exhibition, such as Laibach’s bombastic over-affirmations or Christian Marclay’s analogue turntable cut-up cacophonies, illustrate these new appropriation methods. They moved beyond the previously dominant relationships between art and music by opening doors onto areas in which “external material” underwent unprecedented recodification and reappraisal.

German-American Luxury

Significant and intensive periods of overlapping transfer and transgression between art forms did however also exist in other places in the late 1970s. The New York-Berlin connection played an important role here: Martin Kippenberger had just opened Kippenbergers Büro in Berlin, which was something like the Factory, and had become co-manager at music club S.O.36 when he met New York no-wave filmmaker Eric Mitchell and musician Christine Hahn (as mentioned above, she had previously played with Glenn Branca and Barbara Ess in The Static). They recorded a double single together in April 1979 using the band name Luxus (Luxury). The first track on the record, “New York-Auschwitz”, offers an indication of the tasteless and provocative tenor of their approach. Against background street noise, one can hear scraps of conversation that savour linguistic barriers between Germans and Americans and deliberate misunderstandings, here with a pun on Auschwitz and “my arse sweats”: “[K:] Die Hose. Lederhose. – [H:] Lederhose? – [K:] Mein Arsch schwitzt. – [H:] Auschwitz?” In “Love Song” the line “Can’t Buy Me Love” is stubbornly repeated a cappella in a subdued voice, while in “Pretty Good” the ragged howl of the instrumental goes wild and finally in “Falsch verbunden” the German nursery rhyme “Alle meine Entlein” gets a good battering. Kippenberger performed several times with this formation—which Achim Schächtele, his S.O.36, partner, also later joined—and undoubtedly saw music-making as an extension of his painting. “Like the invitation cards, posters and catalogues”[21] music, as a natural “part of artistic production”, was one element among many in a constantly expanding diversification of his creative work. This mode of self-division into myriad experimental stages— once aptly described as taking “pleasure in and fostering one’s own alienation and redirecting it as a strength”[22]—also figured in the work of many other painters and musicians during this period, from Die Tödliche Doris and Die Partei (Tom Dokoupil & Walter Dahn) to the band Freiwillige Selbstkontrolle (F.S.K.). Music, performance, painting and many more components could be described as being on an equal footing for all these groups —functioning on a plane where a drastic, confrontational stance and anti-virtuosity in the context of self-empowering practice played a much more dominant role than any specificity of media or materials.

The particular exchange-driven relationship that informed painting and musical practice in the German post-punk context is also apparent in band projects such as Der Plan (whose stage sets were made up of large-format images, reminiscent of Milan Kunc, created by band founder Moritz Reichelt),electronic duo Geile Tiere, founded by Salomé and Luciano Castelli, two Berlin “Wilde” [the New Fauves: neo-expressionistic painters in the 1970s and 1980s in Germany]; or Nachdenkliche Wehrpflichtige or LSDAP/AO, in which the brothers Albert and Markus Oehlen played a major role alongside Diedrich Diederichsen. As well as designing the cover for the Wehrpflichtige single Politik für junge Leute (1980)—showing a group of funky soldiers, pointing the soles of their boots at the audience—, Albert Oehlen was also the group’s saxophonist. The mix of intellectualised military, football and working-class songs (“Hundert Mann und ein Befehl”, “Heutiger Soldaten Tun und Lassen”[23]) exudes the spirit of destruction and disharmony that Oehlen would later declare to be the programme informing his painting: “Pictures should not be authentic, but tactically correct.” And: “The destructive prevents consumption but not market success”.[24] The many band projects he was involved with, ranging from Nachdenkliche Wehrpflichtige, the Alma Band and the third reincarnation of The Red Krayola (from 1993) to his electronic alter-ego Wendy Gondeln, may have remained unfulfilled in that respect, perhaps for good reason. By contrast, his own remarkable success on the art market was like a self-fulfilling prophecy, with the uncultivated ugliness of his earlier work soon receiving the highest praise. Jutta Koether summed this up well in an early analysis, although she did not dispute that a certain latent indigestibility remained: “The nasty taste might have gone, and a few days later all the ugliness seems acceptable, and yet something is still quietly fermenting deep down in your stomach, and those residues returns to bother you.”[25] It was precisely this bothersome discomfort that was at work in Oehlen’s painting and his various musical projects, including Wendy Gondeln—that apodictically proclaimed and cacophonic impetus that runs counter to any tonal balance, harmony in (tone) colour and formal consistency.[26]


Although the focus here has been on painterly-musical transitions as exemplified by Martin Kippenberger and Albert Oehlen, the particular proximity of post-punk and emerging “wilde Malerei” [neo-Fauvist painting] should not be overlooked. Imi Knoebel’s cover image for S.Y.P.H’s record PST (1980), on which all musicality seems to have been transformed into gestural vein, should be mentioned in this context, along with the thoroughly humorous paintings Jiři Georg Dokoupil created for publications by the band Wirtschaftswunder, which involved his brother, Tom Dokoupil. Radiating out from the Berlin scene and informed by this cross-disciplinary connection that tapped into the spirit of the Neue Wilde [the New Fauves], the term “geniale Dilettanten” [“brilliant dilettantes”] began to do the rounds in this period—deliberately misspelt (as “Dilletanten”) in the eponymous programmatic anthology in order to highlight a decisive distinction from any form of professionalism.[27]

Young, neo-Fauvist painting also shaped the look of Viennese band Molto Brutto, whose first work (1982) was adorned with thick-brush, pictogram-like painted abbreviations by Gunter Damisch and Gerwald Rockenschaub. Here, too, the jerky rattling sound, insistently subverting any kind of familiar melody, corresponded to a visual language that dovetailed perfectly with it—or, to be more precise, both were derived from the same impetuous urgency operating across very different media. The same holds true for many other protagonists of the Viennese scene at the time: for Konrad Becker’s Monoton, for example, with music initially still strongly influenced by the painterly excesses of Eugenia Rochas, his then partner; for Heimo Zobernig’s communication experiments, which also spilled over into his band activities from 1983 on; or Hans Weigand’s practice that cut across various fields, oscillating from the outset between sculpture, painting, photography and music. Weigand’s group Pas Paravent could never really bring themselves to make “finished” products; the music was much too caught up in the idea of jazzy, groovy incompleteness.[28] On the other hand, much of his painting and photography was all the more final, for example Malteufel (1978/1994), which aimed—as if betting in a “high/low” poker game—to stake everything on creating the “worst possible picture”.

Like many of the painters and musicians mentioned here, Weigand was a self-confessed Captain Beefheart fan. This particular musical affinity meant that he, along with many of his peers, had rapidly internalized Van Vliet’s credo that successful—i.e. “bad”—painting should be disturbing, almost physically assaulting the audience. Over the years, this musical affinity led many of them to conduct their own DIY experiments with the most diverse interactions between the various genres: opening up pathways into uncharted terrain and playing a part in border displacements that flung doors wide-open—even if what came to light behind them may not always satisfy the high standards of some genre connoisseurs. An unavoidably media-specific dimension with a long history explains why much of this continues to seethe and ferment today, in the form of an awareness that there really is a kind of art that, figuratively speaking, transmits impetuses that are musical or transcend several fields. The specific forms these impetuses take in particular cases can be seen in the examples discussed here. Taken together, they help to cultivate an ear that can perceive more than just direct correspondences between art and music.


[1] Both terms refer to Jörg Heiser’s authoritative study, which gave the exhibition its title: Doppelleben: Kunst und Popmusik, Hamburg 2015.

[2] Cf. Christian Höller, “Around 1982. Visual Negation in the Early Work of Heimo Zobernig” by Christian Höller”, in: Heimo Zobernig – Austelung Katerlog. Exhibition catalogue, (ed.) MUMOK Wien, Cologne 2003, pp. 383–385.

[3] Interview with John Yau, in: Interview, 10 (1991), quoted in: Mike Barnes, Captain Beefheart. The Biography, London 2004, p. 323 (“I hope that when other people see them the paintings hug them and shake them […] If my paintings don’t disturb me, I scrap them”).

[4] Cf. for example Luca Ferrari, “Ice Cream For Crow. On The Relationship Between Music And Painting In Captain Beefheart’s Work”, in: Stand Up To Be Discontinued. The Art of Don Van Vliet, Ostfildern 1993, pp. 23–26.

[5] Jörg Heiser has cited a number of such occupations of new territory under the term “Kontextwechsel” (context switch), cf. Doppelleben, op. cit, p. 27ff.

[6] Cf. Mike Kelley, “To the Throne of Chaos Where the Thin Flutes Pipe Mindlessly”, accompanying text for triple CD Destroy All Monsters 1974–1976, Ecstatic Peace! 1995.

[7] Cf. Branden W. Joseph, “Son of a Creature: An Interview with Carey Loren”, in: Grey Room, 12 (2003), pp. 166–125.

[8] Cf. the aforementioned triple CD Destroy All Monsters 1974-1976, the band history compendium Destroy All Monsters: Geisha This, Oak Park, Michigan 1995 (follow-up editions 1996 and 1998), as well as the DVD compilation Grow Live Monsters, MVDvisual 2006.

[9] On the Cleveland scene cf. Clinton Heylin, From the Velvets to the Voidoids. A Pre-Punk History for a Post-Punk World, London/New York 1993, pp. 50ff. and 142ff.; Charlotte Pressler, “Those Were Different Times. A Memoir of Cleveland Life 1967–1973 (Part One)”, online document [].

[10] Cf. the scene overviews in: Marvin J. Taylor (ed.), The Downtown Book. The New York Art Scene 1974–1984, Princeton/Oxford 2006; Marc Masters, No Wave, London 2007; New York Noise. Photographs by Paula Court, London 2007, as well as East Village USA, New York, New Museum of Contemporary Art 2004.

[11] Cf. Heylin, op. cit, pp. 93ff., as well as Legs McNeil/Gillian McCain, Please Kill Me. The Uncensored Oral History of Punk, New York 1996.

[12] Cf. the quotes from Robert Longo, Glenn Branca and Sal Principato (Liquid Liquid) in: New York Noise, op. cit., p. 3, p. 54 and p. 161, respectively.

[13] On the special features of No Wave Cinema, see Matthew Yokobosky, “Not a Part of Any Wave: No Wave Cinema”, in: Taylor, op. cit. pp. 117–128, and Marc Masters, “The Offenders: No Wave Cinema”, in: id., No Wave, op. cit. pp. 139–163.

[14] Director Edo Bertoglio started to shoot the film in 1981 with the title New York Beat, but it was only completed in 2000 with a new voice-over to replace Basquiat, who died in 1988.

[15] In this context, Robert Longo and Richard Prince’s band, Menthol Wars should be mentioned, as well as 3 Teens Kill 4, multi-talent David Wojnarowicz’s band.

[16] Cf. Simon Reynolds, Rip It Up and Start Again. Post-Punk 1978–1984, London 2005.

[17] Cf. Carlo McCormick, “A Crack in Time”, in: Taylor, op cit., p. 88; Craig Owens, “Honor, Power, and the Love of Women”, in: Art in America, January 1983, pp. 7–13, reprinted in: id., Beyond Recognition, Berkeley/Los Angeles/Oxford 1992, pp. 143–155, and also, with reference to Europe, Benjamin H. D. Buchloh, “Figures of Authority, Ciphers of Regression: Notes on the Return of Representation in European Painting”, in: October, 16 (1981), pp. 39–68.

[18] Cf. Simon Ford, Wreckers of Civilisation. The Story of COUM Transmissions & Throbbing Gristle, London 1999.

[19] Cf. John A. Walker, Crossovers: Art Into Pop, Pop Into Art, London 1987, and also Simon Frith/Howard Horne, Art Into Pop, London 1987.

[20] Cf. Linder – Works 1976–2006, Zürich 2006, p. 17 (“When I began to work solely in photomontage […] I used simply a surgeon’s scalpel as my paintbrush and magazines became my new palette”).

[21] Susanne Kippenberger, Kippenberger. Der Künstler und seine Familien, Berlin 2007, p. 174.

[22] Diedrich Diederichsen, “Der Selbstdarsteller. Martin Kippenberger zwischen 1977 und 1983”, in: Eva Meyer-Hermann/Susanne Neuburger (eds.), Nach Kippenberger, Vienna 2003, p. 56. It is significant that the first, extremely impressive “Neue Deutsche Welle” report by Alfred Hilsberg in autumn 1979 already mentions the “self-promoter Kippenberger, who was already notorious from Hamburg”; see “Aus grauer Städte Mauern” (Parts 1 to 3), in: Sounds, October to December 1979, quote from Part 3.

[23] This piece can be found on the double EP Kirche der Ununterschiedlichkeit (1982), where Markus Oehlen’s Vielleichtors and Albert Oehlen’s Männer in nassen Kleidern project are also represented, along with Nachdenkliche Wehrpflichtige and LSDAP/AO.

[24] Quoted from Jutta Koether, “Schlimme Zeiten sind immer zu lang. Werner Büttner und Albert Oehlen”, in: Spex Musik zur Zeit, November 1983, p. 29.

[25] Ibid.

[26] Diedrich Diederichsen also emphasises music and painting’s shared foundation in the German post-punk context, see “Intensität – Negation – Klartext”, in: Zurück zum Beton. Die Anfänge von Punk und New Wave in Deutschland 1977‘82, Cologne 2002, especially pp. 143f.

[27] Cf. Wolfgang Müller (ed.), Geniale Dilletanten, Berlin 1982.

[28] For an overview of Weigand’s musical work, see Thomas Edlinger, “The Beat Goes On. Zum künstlerischen Umgang mit dem Kommunikationsmedium Musik”, in: Hans Weigand, Cologne 2005, pp. 112–119.

This essay is based in part on the essay “Wrong Notes and Off-Colors”, first published in: Bad Painting Good Art edited by Eva-Badura-Triska and Susanne Neuburger, Cologne 2008.