The Austrian had caused a scandal in the 1960s. He had never calmed down, even if the trade offered him his painting made with blood.
It’s as embarrassing dead as it is alive. Journalists, even exegetes, no longer know much about Hermann Nitsch, who died at the age of 83 on April 18. Natural death, against all odds. Outdoors, and not embalmed. “Viennese Actionism”, of which the man was one of the most famous representatives more than fifty years ago, has often ended badly for its advocates. Beginning in 1969, Rudolf Schwarzkogler literally and figuratively disappeared from the scene. He tells the legend that he died at the age of 29 after a voluntary castration. He was, dare I say, too good to be true. The man actually jumped out of a window, thinking he was a bird. Otto Muehl died in 2013 after serving a seven-year prison sentence. Sexual abuse of minors and rape within the community he had founded. Cults often end badly.
a bit of caution
Hermann Nitsch will have taken an almost cautious approach to this madness and deviations. Everything is relative, as you know. The artist was symbolically born in 1938, the year of the Anschluss that marked Austria’s most voluntary adherence to Nazi Germany. He grew up after 1945 denying what his country knew, more or less becoming independent again. Hence this progressive need to abstract from it and distinguish oneself from it by means of rebellion. The “Viennese shareholders”, whose feverish thrust will actually be brief, will hit their compatriots and the institutions as violently as possible. They had to be rocked with ceremonies that had been inspired by the first Living Theater performances and performances a few years earlier. The Sade of the “One Hundred and Twenty Days of Sodom”, but also Freud, Nietzsche (whose name is reminiscent of Nitsch), Georges Bataille or Antonin Artaud, of course, would be summoned. There will be real nudity and very real blood under the noses of the viewers. Which shakes an audience both horrified and delighted. Reactions to fair and deep attacks can only be ambiguous.
Hermann Nitsch would remain from then on the most artistic of all these “performers” for some seasons. Actionism never drowned the painter in it, although sometimes it seems difficult to identify in his canvases, where blood naturally enters as a component, the influence of Titian, Rembrandt or Velázquez that the man intended. These immense paintings, where of course color dominates, would for me be closer to the slightly earlier experiences of the Japanese Gutai movement. An also extreme movement, where the body became a living calligraphic brush. I am thinking here of the experiments of Kazuo Shigara who, attached to the ceiling by a rope, traced signs, also purple, on prepared supports. Gutai exerted a clandestine influence in the West, where he in particular found himself imported by the judoka painter Yves Klein.
Orgien Mysterien Theater
After the dissolution of the Austrian group as such, Nitsch was able to continue his momentum. The man began to search for the “Gesamtkunstwerk”, a Germanic idea if ever there was one since Richard Wagner. His financial means allowed him to acquire the Prinzenhof castle near Vienna in 1971. There he will organize his ceremonies, with an almost liturgical character. This will be the Teatro Orgien Mysterien, with increasingly longer performances. They reflected the evident desire for a collective archaic regression. the trance Together with them, Bob Wilson’s shows would be like a simple opening act. Hermann Nitsch’s record was six days and six nights. A debauchery of screams, but also of music, architecture or painting. With a lot of blood! There was animal disembowelment, steaming intestines, smelly urine, and probably shit everywhere. Something that will make Brigitte Bardot treat Nitsch as an “Austrian Caligula”, outraged by this attack on the animal cause. Perhaps the actress would have preferred to take everything from human blood…
This supposed theatricality did not prevent Nitsch from making paintings for the trade and selling them. You have to live well, and if possible live well. The man was thus honored by three personal museums, two in Germanic countries and the last in Naples. The market pumped out the blood that was available. The Austrian thus had his gallery owners, who offered his quite expensive works. Genevans were thus able to see a Nistch exhibition at the Opera in 2019. He had already told them. Seen out of context, it was a “materialistic” painting almost identical to the others. Lots of violence, but sanitized by the clinical setting of a luxurious contemporary art gallery. It is as if the viscera and excrement have disappeared. On the frame rails there were only traces of orgiastic ceremonies, which had become aesthetic. A nice well-lit dead skin, halfway between reliquary and remnant. If we willingly say that “an angel passes”, the devils (or what serves them) are sometimes overwhelmed by an overwhelming market. Their chaos has become a new order…
Born in 1948, étienne dumont He did studies in Geneva that were of little use to him. Latin, Greek, correct. An unsuccessful lawyer, he branched out into journalism. Most often in the cultural sections, he worked from March 1974 to May 2013 at the “Tribune de Genève”, starting out talking about cinema. Then came the fine arts and books. Other than that, as you can see, nothing to report.
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