Hermann Nitsch, Austrian artist of avant-garde, dies at the age of 83

Holds space while article actions load

Hermann Nitsch, a leading artist from the Austrian avant-garde whose blood-splattered canvases and ritualistic performances involving animal slaughter and crucifixion sparked scandal and sensation in the art world for more than half a century, died on April 18 at a hospital in Mistelbach, Austria. He was 83.

He had contracted meningitis and died of pneumonia, wrote Martha M. Schildorfer, a representative of the Nitsch Foundation in Vienna, in an email.

Sir. Nitsch grew up during the devastation and deprivation of World War II and early developed a cross-border concept of art – one that extended beyond even the most experimental visual experience to include sensory stimulation such as the howl of a screaming choir, the scent of burning incense and the smooth sensation of the intestines of animals.

“I am all at once: painter, poet, theater maker, musician, lyricist and sculptor,” he once told the Associated Press. “I think that art as such is completely free, especially in relation to how the artist chooses to realize it. … The splendor and color of death are the colors of life. “

Sir. Nitsch became a leading exponent of Viennese actionism, an artistic movement that emerged in the 1960s from the traditions of surrealism and dada and attracted attention around the world for his often graphic displays of performance art.

Sir. Nitsch staged events known as “acts” that drew on pagan and Christian rituals for the purpose, he said, “revealing the origins of the creation of sadomasochistic myths.”

In one act, Mr. Nitsch removed a lamb and parted it. In another, an actor re-enacting the crucifixion was soaked in the blood of a slaughtered bull. Another simulated castration.

“Overcoming the barrier of disgust,” the London Daily Mail quoted him as saying, “is a task of art.”

In his canvases, Mr. Nitsch used materials including blood and pig intestines in addition to acrylic. During public performances, where he poured his “poured paintings” in blood-like red paint, “the audience saw an artist-priest or priest-artist celebrating the production process of the claimed art as an unholy mass,” an author of the German newspaper Die Welt wrote after Mr Nitsch’s death.

Sir. Nitsch saw his life’s work, which began in the late 1950s and continued until his death, as a combination to form what he called the Orgies Mysteries Theater. Every part of his actions was carefully written in which Mr. Nitsch composed the sonic elements, which included Gregorian chants and noise orchestras.

“Mr. Nitsch is an artist for whom exaggeration is not a dirty word, and the idea of ​​the whole work of art, where walls between disciplines, reaction categories and everything else are attacked, is very much alive,” art critic Michael Brenson wrote in the New York Times in 1988.

The most dramatic section of his opus was a 1998 staging of a six-day play with 500 participants and, according to the Associated Press, “13,000 liters (more than 3,400 gallons) of wine, hundreds of liters of blood, [kilograms] of grapes and tomatoes, several animal carcasses and musical accompaniment. ”

It “aims to be the biggest and most important celebration of the people,” said Mr. Nitsch. “It’s an aesthetic ritual that glorifies life.”

Sir. Nitsch’s actions sparked protests from animal rights activists, including French actress Brigitte Bardot, who condemned him as a “barbaric master of horror” and the six-day play as a “satanic play”. Mr. Nitsch was repeatedly arrested and was at one point deported from Italy.

“I was a little proud of it,” the publication ARTnews quoted him as saying. “My work agitated the people, and I saw myself in the same league as other great misunderstood artists.”

In the art world, Mr. Nitsch’s opponents regarded him as unjustifiably provocative.

“You do not have to be particularly religious or fond of animals to be offended by the carnage in Mr. Nitsch’s art,” art critic Roberta Smith wrote in the Times in 1989. “What is more offensive, at least artistically speaking, is the way violence “In spite of the work’s fundamental dullness and laziness. Despite the often powerful beauty of his art, there is ultimately a sense of extreme waste – of wildlife as well as artistic talent – that questions Mr Nitsch’s endeavors.”

Defenders of Viennese Actionism regarded its unbridled bloodshed as an implicit reference to the repressed memory of Austria’s role in World War II and the support of a large part of the Austrian population to Hitler when Germany annexed the country in 1938.

Referring to the animals used in his actions, Mr. Nitsch noted that “the meat I use is not eaten, but used for a theatrical performance, a higher purpose.”

Sir. Nitsch was born in Vienna on August 29, 1938, the year of the Nazi annexation of Austria, known as the Anschluss.

During World War II, I experienced bombings every day as a child, he recalled. “My father was killed in Russia. The war made me a cosmopolitan and an opponent of all nationalism and all politics, while I was only a schoolboy. “

According to his account, he had little motivation to succeed academically and was forced out of high school. Early on, however, he showed a talent for drawing and trained in graphic design before working as a commercial artist at what is now the Vienna Museum of Science and Technology.

He began developing the concept for the Orgies Mysteries Theater in 1957. By the end of his career, Mr. Nitsch’s artwork has been displayed at institutions including the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Center Pompidou in Paris and the Tate in London.

Sir. Nitsch’s marriage to Eva Krannich ended in divorce. His second wife, the former Beate König, whom he married in 1968, died in 1977.

Survivors include his wife of 33 years, Rita Leitenbor Nitsch of Prinzendorf, Austria, and foster son of his wife Beate, Leonhard Kopp of Kassel, Germany.

Since 1971, Mr Nitsch had performed his duties at the castle of Prinzendorf in Lower Austria, which he owned and where he lived. According to Schildorfer, the last episode of Orgies Mysteries Theater will be performed this summer.

“There are no boundaries in art,” said Mr. Nitsch to Vice in 2010. “In my opinion, anything can be art. Although at some point you may have to face criminal law and your own conscience.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.