Hermann Nitsch was a pioneering Austrian performance artist, musician, printmaker, painter, composer, and set designer associated with the controversial Vienna Actionists.Read More
Through confrontational works like the Orgies Mysteries Theatre, and 'splatter' paintings or screenprints, Nitsch has gained notoriety in producing violent but symbolic sacramental actions that include viscera and blood from slaughtered animals, combined with red and purple paint. These works critique a materialistic Austrian society and, through the dismembering of lambs, the rituals of the Roman Catholic Church.
Nitsch died at the age of 83 in Mistelbach, Austria.
With the intention of becoming a commercial graphic designer, Nitsch studied at the Institute of Graphic Arts in Vienna (1953—1958), however, he became interested in religious figurative expressionism, then, after exploring writing and literature, the improvised gesturalism of Arte Informel. Taking inspiration from this, along with other movements such as Tachism and Abstract Expressionism, Nitsch turned to painting, a discipline that has permeated his practice throughout his career.
In the mid-fifties—within the community of Viennese Actionists which Hermann Nitsch founded that used meat, blood, and intestines in their artworks—the artist developed the concept of 'Action Painting' whereby he embraced the impulsive application of paint through dripping, splashing and smearing, using all five senses. This turn in his working practice was part of a drive to force the viewer to look closely at what is considered normal in society, uncovering things that are kept strictly hidden or are too disturbing to be acknowledged.
Violence, spontaneity, and chaos are adopted as positive attributes and incorporated into works with an intense passion through performances with disturbing, piercing sounds, the use of animal flesh, and wild, erratic movement using groups of participants. Unexpectedly, peaches, tomatoes, sugar cubes, and flowers are also present. Examples of such paradoxical actions are Dark Mofo (2017); 122th Action (2005); and the painting Rosenbild (1963).
Orgies Mysteries Theatre
In the development of the Orgies Mysteries Theatre, after Viennese Actionism, Nitsch attempted to write a six-day drama based on the Oedipus Myth, but it was never finished. He decided to abandon using language to focus on the sensuality of elemental materials and substances, and their emotional impact on the body, to expose repression, using myth and community ritual to explore human existence itself.
In the sixties (influenced by Antonin Artaud, Sigmund Freud, and Friedrich Nietzsche) he switched from the word to action, from representation via language to the physicality of substance, searching for participant catharsis via excessive experience. To this ecstatic end he developed a painterly equivalent of Actionism, using 'ecclesiastic' ritual with smeared, splattered, and showered oil or acrylic paint in works such as Schuttbild, spill painting (1978) and Schuttbild (1989). Sometimes, mottled surfaces on parts of table supports left from performances were screenprinted over with images of opened-up cadavers, based on earlier drawings like The Last Supper (1983).
Nitsch also has a serious interest in composing music, to be performed in Prinzendorf Castle, devising work not only for the conventional Vienna State Opera, but also for 'noise orchestras' and 'scream choirs'.
Hermann Nitsch has been the subject of many solo and group exhibitions internationally.
Recent solo exhibitions include: 20th Painting Action, Oficine 100, Venice, Italy (2022); Nitsch, MARUANI MERCIER GALLERY, Brussels (2022); Hermann Nitsch, Peres Projects, Berlin (2022); Hermann Nitsch, Jahn und Jahn, Munich (2021); NITSCH — New and selected works, Galerie Frey, Vienna (2021); Hermann Nitsch — The Orgies Mysteries Theatre, Opera Gallery, New York (2020); Hermann Nitsch — The shape of colour, Galerie RX, Paris (2020).
Recent group exhibitions include: Tense Conditions: A Presentation of a Contemporary Art Collection, Staatsgalerie Stuttgart, Germany (2021); The Third Woman — Actionism, Performance and Attitudes, Art Encounters Foundation, Timişoara, Romania (2021); and Walk Through, Post-war and Contemporary, Galerie Thomas, Munich (2021.
Nitsch's work is included in major collections around the world, including: Hall Art Foundation; Francis Bacon Collection, London; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Nitsch Foundation, Vienna; Nitsch Museum, Mistelbach, Austria; Nitsch Museum, Naples, Italy; Tate, London; MoMA, New York; Guggenheim Museum, New York; Essl Collection of Contemporary Art, Austria; Lower Austrian State Collections; and MoMA, New York.
John Hurrell | Ocula | 2022