The year is 1968. A woman leads a leashed man on all fours through the center of Vienna. The woman is the media artist Valie Export and the man is her colleague Peter Weibel, who she worked with frequently in the sixties. The message of her art is as simple as it is effective. Export embodies (with a wink) the woman liberated from patriarchy, reversing gender roles to an extreme. She had already laid the foundation for this work a year earlier when she dropped her real name and called herself “Valie Export”, written in capital letters and inspired by a cigarette brand. She no longer wished to bear a man’s surname. Instead, she adopted a new, chosen identity. C/O Berlin is now dedicating a comprehensive retrospective to the 83-year-old Austrian, which traces how Export challenged not only social norms but the way we perceive ourselves.

It features one of her best-known works, Tapp- und Tastkino. In a pedestrian zone, she strapped a cardboard box in front of her naked upper body and asked passers-by to touch her breasts (the screen) for a few seconds while looking her in the eye. Export wanted to expand the concept of film, but above all she wanted to radically criticize the male gaze on the female body. This debate runs through much of her work — including her Body Sign Action campaign in 1970, when she had a garter belt tattooed. As with many female artists of her generation, her own body remained her most important means of expression over the years. Sometimes she presented it as a projection screen for male pleasure, sometimes as a recipient of pain. Her photo series Body Configurations proves that her work always questions what place a woman can occupy in society. In contrast to some of her more radical work, these black-and-white photographs appear restrained at first glance. But there is a quiet power in the scenes — Export reclaims public space by lying prone on the street or nestling against buildings, steps and architecture. No one can argue Valie Export’s place in art history. As this exhibition at C/O demonstrates, she is one of the most important contemporary artists.

Text: Laura Storfner / Credits: Body Sign B, 1970, The Albertina Museum, Vienna © Valie Export, VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2023; Photo: Gertraud Wolfschwenger; Valie Export – Smart Export, Self-Portrait, 1970, The Albertina Museum, Vienna © Valie Export, VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2023, Photo: Gertraud Wolfschwenger; Aus der Mappe der Hundigkeit, 1968, gemeinsam mit Peter Weibel, Courtesy Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac © Valie Export, VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2023; Photo: Joseph Tandl

C/O Berlin Amerika Haus, Hardenbergstr.22–24, 10623 Berlin-Charlottenburg; map

Valie Export: Retrospective, until 22.05.24.
Daily 11–20h.