Hermann Nitsch

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Hermann Nitsch
Hermann Nitsch am 28. März 2012 bei der Präsentation seines Weines im Gmoakeller (Wien).jpg
Nitsch in 2012
Born (1938-08-29) August 29, 1938 (age 82)
Vienna, Austria
EducationWiener Graphische Lehr-und Versuchanstalt
Known forPerformance art, music
Notable work
Orgien Mysterien Theater
MovementVienna Actionists

Hermann Nitsch (born 29 August 1938) is an Austrian avant-garde artist who works in experimental and multimedia modes.


Born in Vienna, Nitsch received training in painting when he studied at the Wiener Graphische Lehr-und Versuchanstalt, during which time he was drawn to religious art.[1][2] He is associated with the Vienna Actionists—a loosely affiliated group of off-kilter and confrontational Austrian artists that also includes Günter Brus, Otto Muehl, and Rudolf Schwarzkogler.[3]

Nitsch's abstract 'splatter' paintings, like his performance pieces, are inspired by his neutral perspective on humanity and being human. In the 1950s, Nitsch conceived of the Orgien Mysterien Theater (which roughly translates as Theatre of Orgies and Mysteries or The Orgiastic Mystery Theater), staging nearly 100 performances between 1962 and 1998.[3]

In 1966 he was with Yoko Ono, Gustav Metzger, Günter Brus, Otto Muehl, Wolf Vostell, Juan Hidalgo and others a participant of the Destruction in Art Symposium (DIAS) in London.[4]


In 1962, together with Otto Muehl and Adolf Frohner, he performed the three-part action “The Blood Organ” in Vienna, for which a joint manifesto was published. At the beginning of the 1960s, he developed the main ideas for his Orgie Mysterien Theater. Nitsch's Orgien Mysterien Theater performances (or Aktionen, as he calls them) can be considered both ritualistic and existential. The scene is often involved with slaughters, religious sacrifices, crucifixion, as well as blood and flesh. The performances are also accompanied with music, dancing, and active participants. In his first Orgie Mysterien Theater performance, Nitsch and his friends used animal carcasses, entrails, and blood similarly to a ritual. The cloths, bandages and other fabrics used in these performances introduced Nitsch to the idea of making paintings.[3]

Since 1971 Nitsch has been organizing his “Orgy-Mystery Games” on the Prinzendorf Castle area he acquired, including the high point of his life's work, the great “6-Day Game” in the summer of 1998, directed by Alfred Gulden.

In 1972, Nitsch participated in Documenta 5 in Kassel, curated by Harald Szeemann; he was also represented at Documenta 7 in 1982. In 1975, Marina Abramović took part in a performance by Hermann Nitsch. In addition to Abramović, Christoph Schlingensief has also participated in the work of Nitsch.

Nitsch has been repeatedly invited to bring his conceptions of art and ritual to the opera. In 1995, he co-directed the Vienna State Opera and created the sets and costumes for Jules Massenet's opera Hérodiade. In 2001, Nitsch was responsible for the stage design and costumes for the performance of the Gandhi opera Satyagraha by the American composer Philip Glass in the Festspielhaus St. Pölten in Lower Austria. In 2005, he created the equipment for Igor Stravinski's Le Renard. In 2007, he directed the scenes from Goethe's Faust by Robert Schumann at the Zurich Opera House. In 2011 he was responsible for the scenic conception, design, stage design and costumes for Saint François d’Assise by Olivier Messiaen at the Bavarian State Opera in Munich.

Hermann Nitsch's worldview is strongly influenced by mystical authors, but also by de Sade, Friedrich Nietzsche, Sigmund Freud and Antonin Artaud, among others. In his theoretical book Orgien-Mysterien-Theater, Nitsch stated that his actions and images should first cause disgust and disgust in the audience, then catharsis. The combining of real animal carcasses and real blood with religious content such as the crucifixion and the immaculate conception are consciously used by Nitsch in order to bring the viewer to reflect on symbolic topoi such as blood and death that are often repressed in everyday life, which also play a central role in Christianity. Christian viewers and numerous critics perceived his actions and works as blasphemy.

In addition to his theater of orgies and mysteries, Hermann Nitsch is also active as a composer and writer. His actions are noted in meticulously notated scores which, in addition to instructions and texts, also contain graphically notated pieces of music.

Because he offends not only animal rights activists, but also theologians and representatives of public morality, his work is highly controversial. Conversely, some action and performance artists, including former comrades-in-arms, distance themselves from what they consider to be the overly religious element of his work. In terms of content, his art at Prinzendorf Castle can certainly be interpreted as an attempt at a counter to Wagner's Bayreuth.

From November 1988 to January 1989, the Städtische Galerie in the Lenbachhaus in Munich showed some of the artist's works as part of the solo exhibition "Nitsch - Das Bildnerische Werk".

He performed the "2-day game" campaign in summer 2004. On November 19, 2005, the 122nd action of the Orgies-Mysteries-Theater took place in the Vienna Burgtheater as part of the 50th anniversary celebrations for the reopening after the war.

On May 24, 2007, the “Hermann Nitsch Museum” was opened in the Mistelbach Museum Center, which led to protests among parts of the Mistelbach population. In Naples on September 13, 2008, Nitsch's long-time gallery owner Peppe Morra opened a museum dedicated exclusively to Nitsch's work, the “Museo Archivio Laboratorio per le Arti Contemporanee Hermann Nitsch”, which was set up in a former power station.

In the Weinviertel, not far from his Prinzendorf Castle, Hermann Nitsch owns his own vineyard. The yields from it are pressed according to traditional standards and filled into double-liter bottles. Since the 2006 vintage, the Nitsch-Doppler, whose label Hermann Nitsch artistically redesigns every year, has been presented to the public in Vienna.

He has exhibited his works during the Venice Biennale 2017 at the European Cultural Centre.[5][6]

Most recently, in 2020, 80 current works were shown at the Museum Mistelbach in the exhibition Hermann Nitsch - New Works. After the color red, which he used earlier in his artistic work, and after the color yellow - the color of light and resurrection - Nitsch used bright and bright colors in his late creative days. His endeavor was to bring sounds, tastes and tactile sensations onto the canvas with his own hands. He was inspired by peonies and other flowers. His late work has an optimistic and life-affirming effect through the floral color symphonies and the transcendent lightness. [15]

Controversial aspects[edit]

Having grown up during World War II, Nitsch reveals his fascination with the intensity of religious feelings for life in his art work with excessive means such as taboo images, nudity, bloody scenes and more. For this, he received several court trials, being charged with gross public indecency and sentenced to three prison terms. It is often suggested that his work may exemplify certain peoples' fascination with violence.[1][7][8][9]


  1. ^ a b Hermann Nitsch, Discogs.
  2. ^ Hermann Nitsch, Art Directory.
  3. ^ a b c HERMANN NITSCH, By Jonas Vogt, Alexander Nussbaumer.
  4. ^ Destruction in Art Symposium (DIAS), London, 1966.
  5. ^ "PERSONAL STRUCTURES - Cornerhouse Publications". Cornerhouse Publications. Retrieved 2017-07-11.
  6. ^ "Personal Structures". Lodown Magazine. 2015-04-13. Retrieved 2017-07-11.
  7. ^ Article in Italian newspaper La Repubblica
  8. ^ Sabbath, Bloody Sabbath: The Sacrificial Rites of Hermann Nitsch. Archived 2013-06-01 at the Wayback Machine
  9. ^ Animals, art and death: Hermann Nitsch's 3-Day-Play.


  • Stark, Ekkehard. Hermann Nitschs 'Orgien Mysterien Theater' und die "Hysterie der Griechen." Quellen und Traditionen in Wiener Atikedild seit 1900
  • Winkler, Michael. Review: Hermann Nitschs 'Orgien Mysterien Theater' und die "Hysterie der Griechen." Quellen und Traditionen in Wiener Atikedild seit 1900 by Ekkehard Stark. The German Quarterly, Vol. 61, No. 4, 60th Anniversary 1928-1988 (Autumn, 1988) pp. 590–591.
  • Romberg, Osvaldo. Redemption through Blood:pp. 8–13, 60-71

External links[edit]