Hermann Nitsch, a pioneer of Viennese actionism, died

The Austrian artist, often in the crosshairs of public opinion, had emerged on the art scene in the 1960s with the current of Viennese actionism and had brought to life the theater of orgies and mysteries. His performative actions, characterized by naked bodies, slaughtered animals, blood and entrails, are documented in the museum in Naples dedicated to him.

Herman Nitsch.  Rome, October 3, 2017. Photo Riccardo Pompili
Herman Nitsch. Rome, October 3, 2017. Photo Riccardo Pompili

The art world says goodbye to Hermann Nitsch, one of the most controversial artists of the second half of the twentieth century. Born in Vienna in 1938, the artist died at the age of 83. His artistic research throughout his life was characterized by a desire to liberate body and mind from the imposed demands of civil society and from all forms of religious, moralistic and sexual taboos. Not surprisingly, he initially appeared on the art scene as part of the Vienna Actionism group, along with the artists Gunter BrusOtto Muehl And Rudolf Schwarzkogler, the latter committed suicide a few years later. The group represented the highest and bloodiest expression of European Body Art, using their own body as a medium and bringing to life actions with very strong impact. His work is currently on display, in collaboration with the Biennale Arte 2022, on Workshop 800 at Giudecca in Venice. The exhibition, titled Hermann Nitsch: 20th painting campaign organized by Zuecca Projects, presents it for the first time in Italy “20. malaction”created by Hermann Nitsch at the Vienna Secession in 1987: it is an impressive collection of painting actions that includes 52 works, including the largest painting the artist ever made during his career – 20 meters long – mixed with the intense red of blood and holy and profane, real and symbolic painting, anger and delicacy of the gesture.


Graduated from the Experimental Graphic Institute in Vienna, Nitsch takes his first steps in the field of tachism, the movement that interprets the culture of the informal and the immediacy of the gesture that pours or splashes the colors on the canvas, enhanced by the hands directly to use. † In 1957 he started to get pregnant with the Orgien Mysterien Theater (Theatre of Orgies and Mysteries): It is a total art experience – gesamtkunstwerk – involving all five senses, coupled with the psychoanalytic concept of abreaktion, which is the emotional release that allows a subject to remove the effects of dramatic events through a collective and ancestral ritual. A liberation from the Freudian meaning, in which profound sensory elements emerge through a state of psycho-physical arousal.

Hermann Nitsch, Schüttbild (action painting), 20th painting action, Secession Vienna 1987. Oil on canvas, 200 x 300 cm.  Photo by Liesl Biber.  Courtesy of the Nitsch Foundation.  © Atelier Hermann Nitsch.
Hermann Nitsch, Schüttbild (action painting), 20th painting action, Secession Vienna 1987. Oil on canvas, 200 x 300 cm. Photo by Liesl Biber. Courtesy of the Nitsch Foundation. © Atelier Hermann Nitsch.


The first Action, Blood Organ, which will be followed by more than a hundred, takes place in Vienna in December 1962 and lasts about 30 minutes, in which a man, chained as if he had been crucified, is covered with a white sheet. Not just blood: other elements are gradually added to these acts, such as the flesh of gutted calves or sheep, animal organs and entrails, urine, and liturgical vestments such as cardinal miters, chasubles, headscarves, monstrances, and crosses. †If this painting, derived from my theater, was to make sense, it had to take place in the theater only as a dramatic process, as an event that takes place in time.”, wrote the artist in the text painting and orgy mysteriestheater† †I developed an action painting that is inherent in my theatre. The sprinkling of the walls was conceived over time as a theatrical process. The action was just as important as the result. This painting became the visual grammar of my actions on a pictorial surface and the ritual entrance to my performative events. The Dionysian process, this often ecstatically excessive action painting, led to the excessive activities of actionsExcess has been the hallmark of Nitsch throughout his career, often clashing with public opinion: from the early 1960s, when during his actions, the police broke in during the actions to stop them, to the in recent years, during which mobilizations and petitions were made around his events, especially from animal rights associations, who charged him with trampling on the dignity of the animal.

Herman Nitsch ph.  Daniela Neuhofer
Herman Nitsch ph. Daniela Neuhofer


In addition to staunch opponents, Nitsch’s career has also been promoted by prominent supporters. One especially was Giuseppe Morrahis friend and patron of his work since the 1970s. To him, Morra dedicates the Hermann Nitsch Museum Archives Laboratory of Contemporary Art in Naples, and placed it in a former factory built in 1892 for the production of electricity. Located in the lively district of Pontecorvo, it is a space for documentation and in-depth study of the philosophical, poetic and visual themes developed by the Viennese master, but also for reflection on the essence of art, its languages ​​and phenomena, opening to a heterogeneous programming with artists, intellectuals, professionals from the scientific world or from international institutions. †Art is nature, and through the artistic process a new nature is created, which helps to underline, or rather intensify, the act of creation.“, he explained Nitsch in an interview published on Artribune† †Morals, censorship and the state prevent us from really fully expressing ourselves fully, and for this we are forced to suppress many aspects of our lives that have to re-emerge instead. Much of our life is impulse. Through my work I try to express it, to let it come out, as is already the case with Greek tragedy or Shakespeare.


The Morra Foundation contributes in the pain of the loss of the great artist and friend Hermann Nitsch. The Museo Archivio Laboratorio per le Arti Contemporanee is his home, the place where he directed his last action Symphony of Naples in September 2020 as a tribute to Naples and to Giuseppe Morra with whom he shared the joys of unceasing creation. Nitsch’s festivals celebrated existence, resurrection, permanent rebirth, the becoming of life, and led the sensibilities of those who participated in them to expand into a more intense sense of being thrown into the world. As a sign of mourning, the Morra Foundation will broadcast the audio of the mov. IV of Symphony No. 7 in A major, opus 92, composed by Ludwig van Beethoven, as the Maestro wished. †The world, the being, allows us to be reborn at any moment (it also makes us die) “, said the master. “Living, putting life into practice, allows us to be reborn always and continuously. the execution of the tragic, of the cross, is imposed in the extreme case of death on the one who learns and understands being. the experience of joy is permanent resurrection, it is centered on the resurrection. every furious feast is a feast of existence, of resurrection, it is our perpetual birth, our bright awakening in being. we are awakened from death, which occurs countless times, to our deep and full living being (existence)

-Giulia Ronchi


Art events underway in Venice

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