Hermann Nitsch

(b. 1938)

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(1938– )

Austrian painter and actionist, the founder of the Orgien Mysterien Theater. His work is a form of Performance art, although he makes a clear distinction between the mere ‘presentation’, that is to say simulation, of most performance and his ‘total work of art’. His characteristic performances are violent rituals involving animal slaughter and fake crucifixion accompanied by very loud music and lasting several hours. A six-day event was held in 1998 at Schloss Prinzendorf, the artist's mansion in Austria, which he purchased in 1971. On the one hand these came out of American Action Painting and Happenings but they also had a strongly Central European intellectual source in the writings of Nietzsche. The artist drew on the philosopher's idea of the Dyonisiac rite of sacrifice, necessary to lead a fuller life but also feared. Reference is also made to Catholic ritual and priest's vestments were worn in some events. His practice reflects a belief that the aggressive instincts have been tamed by the media. The killing of animals, which ought to be a natural aspect of human behaviour, is generally carried out in abattoirs away from the view of the public. Nitsch's paintings also involve either the use of actual blood or of red paint flung on the canvas as if it is the site of a bloody act. See also Vienna Actionists.

Subjects: Art.

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