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Friedensreich Hundertwasser, Art and Life

By Béa Aaronson, PhD

Painter, architect, philosopher, and environmentalist, Hundertwasser is a one-of-a-kind artist. He was fascinated with spirals, and called straight lines “the devil’s tools.” Hundertwasser loved uneven paved streets and uneven irregular floors, saying that they were “a melody to the feet.” He would have loved San Miguel de Allende! He marveled at mosses and mildew, whose organic growth could soften the angular geometrization of man-made functional structures. Hundertwasser’s 1958 Mouldiness Manifesto Against Rationalism in Architecture is a must read.

“Spirals, Mildew, and Transautomatism”
Mon, Feb 1, 4pm
The Jewish Cultural Center of San Miguel, the JC3
Calle de Las Moras 47, corner Cinco de Mayo
For reservations: 415 185 9191 or
130 pesos members/150 pesos non-members

He called his theory of art “transautomatism,” based on Surrealist automatism, but focusing on the experience of the viewer, rather than the artist. He wanted to awaken a response within the viewer, a response that bypassed mercantile value, bypassed scholarly perception, and could reach deeply into the psyche and senses of the beholder, yielding a hypnotic, almost trance-like experience that still astounds today. Indeed, his artistic vision vibrates with an organic perception of life and nature, which, while exhaling powerful perfumes from Gaudi, Klimt, and Schiele, is totally sui generis.

Hundertwasser was born Friedrich Stowasser in 1928 to a Jewish family in Vienna. All of his relatives on his mother’s side were killed in the Holocaust before he was 20, and he escaped persecution in a most frightening way … by joining the Hitler Youth. He then traveled extensively throughout the world and finally rested his nomadic, persecuted soul in New Zealand, where he died in 2000.

Hundertwasser has given us bold unforgettable images, which arrest our gaze and perplex our minds. A controversial creator and thinker who did not shy away from appearing naked in public political forums, as when he gave a lecture in Munich in 1967, called “Speech in Nude for the Right to a Third Skin,” part of his Five Skins theory that I will unravel for your pleasure.

Hundertwasser primarily channeled his energy to open a new consciousness about the place and role of humanity on Earth. His philosophy of life is suffused by the wisdom of Rabindranath Thakur, better known as Tagore, who strove for harmony between humans and nature, and also by the teachings of the Dalai Lama.

Hundertwasser’s revolutionary architecture will fill you with awe and astonishment, as he succeeded in building houses, apartment buildings, and factories that incorporate natural features of the landscape into their structures. He also designed facades, postage stamps, flags, airplanes, clothing, and jewelry.

Hundertwasser’s work can be best described as a rejection of the straight line, an embracement of bright colors and biomorphic forms, a reconciliation of humans with nature, and an embodiment of individualism. Come and meet this revolutionary, anti-totalitarian, extraordinary man. You will not be able to shake off his visionary style and thinking. You will want to drink at the source of his imagining.


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