Sotheby’s is auctioning a group of works by Austrian conceptual artist Valie Export. The sale will offer three examples from Export’s subversive career. The works are available in the auction house’s Contemporary Photographs online sale. Bidding will be open until October 1.
Export is known for her radical practice exploring feminist themes and body politics through performance, photography and film. In 1967, Export transformed her name into a brand, often appearing in capital letters as ‘VALIE EXPORT’. She made the move after renouncing her father and ex-husband’s surnames as a way to oppose patriarchal norms.
“She used this to introduce herself to the Viennese art scene, which was then dominated by the Vienna Actionists, most of whom were men,” said Hermione Sharp, Associate Specialist for Photographs. “In a way, this was one of her first ‘actions.“ From there, she developed an experimental practice that shocked conservative audiences in Vienna.
The body is central to Export’s practice. Many of her works feature the artist’s own image. “For EXPORT, photography and performance are intertwined” said Sharp.
On offer in the sale is Erwartung (Expectation) (From Nachstellunghen) from 1976 at an estimate of $15,000-$25,000. The photomontage depicts the artist cradling a vacuum cleaner. The black and white image is set against a Renaissance scene— the scheme is a nod to the Christian pieta and a satirical jab at domestic ideals.
Also included in the sale is Export’s Encirclement ‘zuhockung Ii’ (Squat In Ii) (1976) valued at $8,000-$12,000. The print is from Export’s “Body Configurations” series, completed between 1972 and 1982. The series features photographs of the artist in contorted positions in urban locations.
“Photographs from the ‘Body Configurations’ series are also performances: she contorted her own body into awkward and uncomfortable positions to defy these large, masculine architectural structures,” said Sharp. “Works from the “Body Configurations” series were hugely important in cementing her reputation as a feminist artist” said Sharp. Another edition of the work resides at the MoMA and the Centre Pompidou in Paris.
Each of the prints from 1976 were featured in a 2003 exhibition, “The Last Picture Show: Artists Using Photography,” which traveled to the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles; and the Museo de Arte Contemporánea de Vigo, Spain.
In the market, Export’s works are rarely available. Still undervalued according to specialists, Export’s legacy is seeing renewed attention. In 2017, the University of Linz in Austria opened a research and exhibition center devoted to Export after acquiring the octogenarian artist’s estate.