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Hermann Nitsch, 2002 Hermann Nitsch, 2002 Hermann Nitsch, 2002
A relaxed and good-humored Hermann Nitsch, styled impeccably in a suit for the setting, at the opening of his solo exhibition, "Malaktionen und Relikte 1963 - 2001" in the basement of the Gallery E. & K. Thoman, where he offered white wine from his own vineyard of the Castle of Prinzendorf, that he acquired a few decades ago. Even bits of cheese were served, and some white bread. Visibly, Nitsch still stirs emotions, and elicits reactions from the exhibition visitors that go beyond his status as either controversial artist or political actionist. It is only in recent years that the enfant terrible is being flattered by the conservatives.


Hermann Nitsch, born in 1938 in Vienna, Austria, is one of the most important initiators of the so called "Wiener Aktionismus", "Viennese Actionism", which is still regarded as a strange, unique phenomenon in Austria. The "Wiener Aktionismus" did not only influence the country's artistic development in the sixties but also constituted Austria's first contribution to international contemporary art. Its roots lie in the fifties: A group of Austrian artists, ignored by the art establishment, in total opposition to the social, political and aesthetic mores, rejecting commodified "bourgeois" art - Otto Mühl, Hermann Nitsch and Günther Brus, who at one point called themselves the "Vienna Institute for Direct Art". Generations of artists have claimed them as their forefathers or borrowed their ideas. At first these artists produced action paintings and crude assemblages pushing the definition of art to an extreme. Well-known are Nitsch's "splatter paintings". Hermann Nitsch's action performances and exhibitions in Vienna between 1960 and 1966 resulted in several court trials and three prison terms. In spring of 1963, during the Vienna Festival, Nitsch and Mühl arranged their first public action in Mühl's studio in the 20th district of Vienna: the "Fest des psycho-physischen Naturalismus", the "Festival of Psycho-Physical Naturalism". In a happening that could be interpreted by some as a furious protest, they crashed a sideboard filled with jam and wheat flour onto the street. They also had planned to undress the wife of Günther Brus, Anni Brus, and then cover her with cherries, plums, fresh vegetables, beans and flour. According to Mühl this "Aktion" at the "Fest des psycho-physischen Naturalismus", the crashing of the sideboard, was part of a larger series of similar actions he had planned, for example the destruction of the whole indoor furnishing and the throwing out of the window of paint bombs. The event was stopped by the police and Nitsch and Mühl were arrested for 14 days. After the "Fest des psycho-physischen Naturalismus" Günther Brus disposed a cadaver of a slaughtered, skinned and disembowelled lamb, which had been put into a bag that was dripping with blood, into the Donaukanal. Passers-by immediately alarmed the police telling them that a body had been dumped and Brus was arrested for three days.


Aktion 2002, Hermann Nitsch; Young woman, whose sexual organ was drenched in animal blood, and with an animal brain placed upon her.
Since 1957 Hermann Nitsch has consistenly developed his concept of the "Theater of Orgies and Mysteries" (O-M Theater). In his actions Nitsch combines medieval Passion plays and village celebrations with newly interpreted Meditaerranean salvation and fertility rituals involving sacrifices. The "Orgien-Mysterien-Theater", usually planned as a six-day performance, addressing all five senses, also enables spectators to become actors themselves. In 1971 Nitsch was able to purchase Prinzendorf Castle, Austria, the home of his Orgies Mysteries Theater, where from then on he staged his magnum opus. Dr. Günther Dankl, remembers his participation at the first big event at Prinzendorf in the seventies, a 24-hour "Aktion" which started at 5:00 o'clock in the morning and ended the next day at 5:00. It is said that after a performance in the basement, he was forgotten there, when everybody left to watch the sun rise. Günther Dankl at the opening of an exhibition of Lawrence Weiner to SAST REPORT: "I liked participating at that "Aktion". I myself and a few friends of mine were real Nitsch fans. We went to Prinzendorf Castle three weeks in advance to rehearse. Everybody had several roles to play. I also had a performance in the basement, acting as model lying on a stretcher, when everybody went outside to watch the sunrise. I don't know if I was forgotten there. But maybe Nitsch sometimes makes fun and says: 'We forgot you there.'"



These "actions" were similar to the "happenings" of New York that became notorious because of their sadomasochistic content, involving nakedness, blood and the destruction of animal corpses. Hermann Nitsch also uses priest's vestments, human excrements and ritual objects such as ecclesiastical items, causing irritation in the roman catholic church. Aktion 2002, Hermann Nitsch; Young woman, whose sexual organ was drenched in animal blood, and with an animal brain placed upon her.
Hermann Nitsch
Hermann Nitsch, Stretchers from the
80. Aktion, 3-day Orgien-Mysterien-
Theater, Prinzendorf Castle, 1984;
blood, fabric, wood; each 250x50 cm.
Hermann Nitsch was often taken to court, being accused of violence, pornography and blasphemy. In 1966 Nitsch was sentenced to half a year prison with probation, which meant that if the artist had performed another action, he would have had to go to prison for one year. This was enough for the Viennese artist and he went into exile to Munich, Germany. In Nitsch's theoretical writings ("Orgien, Mysterien, Theater", Darmstadt, 1969) he proclaimed his wish to revive Dionysian and Christian rites. He believes that human instincts have been repressed by social norms and conventions. His ritualized acts of killing animals and physical contact with blood are supposed to release that repressed energy as well as purify. Now, four decades later the enfant terrible Hermann Nitsch has gained international acclaim as an artist.

Hermann Nitsch webpage
Museo Archivio Laboratorio per le Arti
  Contemporanee Hermann Nitsch, Museum
  dedicated to Hermann Nitsch in Naples


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