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Hermann Nitsch

Currently not on display
Acquired in 1983
Inventory number 1153

The Van Abbemuseum Collection consists of over 3400 artworks. We publish texts and images on an ongoing basis, but this record is currently in the process of being documented.

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Two canvases of two by three metres form this 'Schüttbild' by the Austrian artist Hermann Nitsch. They are displayed next to each other and are largely covered in blood-red paint. Looking at the way the paint is spattered, we can conclude that it was probably hurled at the canvas. In various places, someone then walked through the paint in their bare feet, as shown by the footprints on the canvas.

From 1960 Hermann Nitsch was involved in “Aktionsmalerei”. He made paintings with rusty brown or blood-red paint and wax, which he sometimes applied with his hands and feet, and he often hurled thin paint directly at the canvas so that it dripped or spattered. In contrast with American action painting, in which the paint was seen only as paint, Nitsch’s canvases often provoke horror because of their similarity to fresh or clotted blood. Like Brus and Schwarzkogler, Nitsch was a member of the Wiener Aktionismus. These artists tried to break down taboos and push back the boundaries with their shocking actions and performances in order to increase the freedom of the individual. Photographs of Nitsch’s performances and remnants of these in the form of gory bandages, chalices and chasubles are presented in exhibitions so that the visitor can recreate them in his imagination.

From 1963 Nitsch organized performances entitled “Orgien Mysterien Theater”, in which people performed naked or wrapped up in clothes and he used both living and dead animals. Men and animals were subjected to crucifixion rituals and the participants were smeared with blood and with the organs removed from the animals. The whole performance was accompanied by music made on location, and wine flowed freely. These performances could last several hours or even days. They were the preparation for Nitsch’s ultimate artworks: the six-day performance, which had a mystical and orgiastic character. The participants entered into a trance and, liberated from bourgeois conventions, they allowed their energy free rein. The performance served as a transfiguration of life. Nitsch’s “Orgien Mysterien Theater” is a combination of provocation and devotion. It is based strongly on Christian rituals, classical mythology and alchemical practices.