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Hermann Nitsch

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Vital Dates:
Born: 29 August 1938


Hermann Nitsch was born in 1938 and received training in painting at the Wiener Graphische Lehr-und Versuchanstalt in Vienna, Austria. The media of Nitsch’s work is varied, but he has mostly focused on abstract splatter paintings and performances, mostly his Aktion series of performances and Das Orgien Mysterien Theater series of performances.

Nitsch is also a musician. Nitsch is often associated with the Viennese Actionists, a group of loosely affiliated artists working with action art, a composite term for performance related activities including Fluxus, Happenings, Performance Art and Body Art.

Viennese Actionism, as it has been described, developed in conjunction with Performance Art and Fluxus and, similar to these movements, it shared the rejection of object-based art. It was focused on the aesthetics of destruction, violence and, in the case of Hermann Nitsch, blood. Many Vienna Actionist art projects involved the simulation of violence, the use of nudity and animal carcasses. Nitsch views this movement, not as cohesive, but as “a number of artists react[ing] to particular situations that they all encountered, within a particular time period, and with similar means and results.” The movement was active between 1960 and 1971, but some of the artists have, like Nitsch, continued to work in a similar vein. A number of the artists, including Nitsch, served jail time as a result of the moral outrage generated by their work.

Most of Nitsch’s work is characterized by a theme of controlled violence, an aestheticization of that violence and ritualism. His paintings are usually composed of colours reminiscent of blood and violence through the application of greys, maroons and bright reds. His early performances focused on simulating violence on human bodies, but moved towards the use of animal carcasses as a medium. Most of his performances are referred to as Aktion and denoted by a sequential number (eg. 16. In Nitsch’s performances, animal carcasses are often mutilated and crucified ritualistically, in combination with the addition of other ceremonial elements such as red fruit, music, dancing, and active participants. Many of his performances are also accompanied by his geräuschmusik or noise music that uses an assortment of atonal sounds to create music.

Later in his career, Nitsch became significantly more accepted by the Austrian establishment and was commissioned to do set and costume design for the opera Hérodiade in 1995.

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