In 1987 ONA B. (1957 Vienna – Vienna), Evelyne Egerer (1955 Vienna – Vienna), Birgit Jürgenssen (1949, Vienna – 2003 Vienna), and Ingeborg Strobl (1949 Schladming – 2017 Vienna) formed the women’s artists’ group DIE DAMEN as a kind of first “girl group” of the fine arts. After Ingeborg Strobl left in 1992, Lawrence Weiner (1942 New York – Amsterdam and New York), a pioneer of conceptual art, joined. The group disbanded in 1996.
DIE DAMEN presented themselves as a collective work of art in live performances and actions. Their artistic method was based on role-play. Their themes were seemingly banal, but in reality subversive. Taking an ironic perspective, they exaggerated the predominant clichés pertaining to gender roles. The surviving photographs of their enactments show the group in choreographed and sometimes synchronous poses in both the public and private spheres, like in the “living images” of the historical genre of the tableau vivant. Body language and gestures as well as the design and styling of outfits and accessories were the important forms of impression in these actions. DIE DAMEN usually performed wearing identical costumes. They always emphasized their feminine sexuality by using various clichés, such as classic business dress or kitchen aprons, thus presenting a socially critical view of the passive roles traditionally apportioned to women. Their costumes and the new feminist self-confidence these artists embodied was also a kind of after-glow of the glam rock movement of the 1970s, whose credo was that everyone had the ability to be a star. DIE DAMEN also addressed everyday domestic scenes at home and the tough reality of down-trodden housewives. With their staged parodies and caustic humor, they reflected back the male gaze, and also supremely demonstrated the “cool” distance typical of the 1980s. DIE DAMEN came into the public arena at around the same time as the American group Guerilla Girls (founded 1985), as self-confident protagonists in the struggle for equal treatment for women artists and against the dominance of white men in the world of art.
Because DIE DAMEN performed mainly live events there are only very few surviving material works. The Generali Foundation Collection was quick to acquire individual works by ONA B., Evelyne Egerer, and Ingeborg Strobl. In 2019 a new collection of rare works and documentations of works was purchased, and was complemented by a generous gift from the artists. As a result, the work of this outstanding group of artists, which at the time was unique in Austria, can be documented with a comprehensive selection of works. The inventory includes photographs of the group’s first action, entitled In View of the Occasion, which took place on January 8, 1988, in the restaurant at Vienna’s Westbahnhof rail station. There is also the first vintage print of the well-known postcard that the group sent out as an invitation to this action, which is a group photo of the artists in which they take a satirical approach to conventional group pictures of male artists. The Collection also holds documentation of their Ladies Consultation Hour, held on October 22, 1995, at the Salzburg Hotel Bristol. What remains of the work of DIE DAMEN is photo documents, fragments, objects, and utensils. As a collective of women artists, DIE DAMEN stand in the tradition of the live art of the 1960s, in which the experience of participating in an event and the memory of that experience are more important than the production of material works. (Doris Leutgeb)