Hermann Nitsch's demise leaves a legacy of works being shown at the Venice Biennale

Austrian artist Hermann Nitsch – known for his works of flesh and blood - passed away before the opening of his 20th Painting Action, on view during the Venice Art Biennale 2022.

by STIRworldPublished on : Apr 22, 2022

What is it like watching and experiencing a live act of ritualistic ceremony? And what if it involves blood? That would certainly result in goosebumps, right? But, Hermann Nitsch, who passed away on April 18, 2022 due to a serious illness, made sense out of it all. Aged 83, the Austrian artist made history with his radical 1960s Avant-garde movement, leaving the audiences thunderstruck with the use of blood, carcasses, and viscera in his ceremonial art performances. Crucial founder of Viennese Actionism, Nitsch was an action performer, painter, composer (symphonies, organ concerts), and a set designer. Considered as one of the most versatile contemporary artists, his synthesis of the arts, the Theatre of Orgies and Mysteries, confines the broad spectrum of his art by calling on all five senses – the tragedy leads us to become involved with flesh, blood, and intestines.

Austrian artist Hermann Nitsch | STIRworld
Austrian artist Hermann Nitsch Image: Philipp Schuster

Unfortunately, the artist would not be able to experience one of his greatest successes, which is the art exhibition of the 20th Painting Action, on view as part of the 59th Venice Biennale. The 20th Painting Action is presented by Helmut Essl’s private collection in association with Galerie Kandlhofer, created and shown at the Wiener Secession in Vienna (1987). For the first time, all the 20th Painting Action works will be seen at the Biennale together in Italy until July 20, 2022 at Oficine 800 on the island of Giudecca, Venice.

20th Painting Action at Secession, Vienna | STIRworld
20th Painting Action at Secession, Vienna Image: Heinz Cibulka

“To every age, it's art. To art, its freedom” is the motto that can be read above the portal of the Wiener Secession in Vienna. According to reports, the contemporary artist has been harassed and persecuted for it so often, including criminal charges, protests, and threats. A large amount of resistance was thrown towards him and despite it all, he pursued his idea of a fusion of all the arts and stands now as a monolithic figure in 20th century art history

Installation view: 20th Painting Action | STIRworld
Installation view: 20th Painting Action Image: Courtesy of Zuecca Project Space

The artistic style arose from Nitsch’s initial interest in Expressionism, which he links to mostly religious figurative art scenes.The revolution commenced originating from here that followed a period in which Nitsch had turned more towards literature. He returned to painting, creating works in the Arte Informel style. The official statement adds that revolving around the intensive sensory experience of various substances and fluids, these actions in his performance art became increasingly provocative in the coming years. Soon additions such as screaming and noise action performances became a part of his practice, conceived as abreaction plays. Nitsch undertook the dismemberment of lambs, which led to further actions involving flesh. After the Theatre proved a resounding success in the US and Germany at the end of the 1960s, Nitsch performed numerous actions throughout the 1970s in cities across Europe and North America. In a changed political and social climate, Nitsch established himself as a universally recognised creative artist.

Schüttbild (action painting), 20th painting action,1987, Oil on canvas | STIRworld
Schüttbild (action painting), 20th Painting Action, 1987, Oil on canvas Image: Liesl Biber

"Everything that ever was and ever will be is to be."
This intense, life-affirming philosophy has accompanied Nitsch throughout his life; it will keep his work alive in eternity.

First part of a six-day play will be performed in Prinzendorf from July 30-31, 2022, postponed for two years due to the pandemic. It was Nitsch's specific wish that his total work of art, The Orgies Mysteries Theater, to continue after his passing. The six-day-play, an aesthetic ritual glorifying existence, aims to be the greatest and most important celebration of peoples.

Wide angle view of the 20th Painting Action | STIRworld
Wide angle view of the 20th Painting Action Image: Courtesy of Zuecca Project Space

(Text by Vatsala Sethi, Asst. Editorial Coordinator (Arts))

The 59th International Art Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia, titled The Milk of Dreams is open to the public from April 23-November 27, 2022, at the Giardini and the Arsenale, Venice.

Click here to read more about STIRring Dreams, a series of articles by STIR that explore some of the best presentations at this year's edition of the art biennale.

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