Hermann Nitsch was an Austrian avant-garde contemporary artist, and the leader of Viennese Actionism, most prominent in the 1960s and 1970s. He was regarded as one the most versatile artists to date as a painter, action performer, composer, and set designer. He shocked audiences with paintings and performance art that often featured human blood and dead animals, with prominent themes of religion.
After the notorious artist’s death and 24 years after the first realization of the 6-DAY-PLAY (1998), the total work of Nitsch’s art perfomance in Prinzendorf is to be performed again this year into a concentrated interplay of all its components. The second version of the six day performance of the Orgies Mysteries Theatre aims to be the greatest and most important celebration of man (it is an aesthetic ritual glorifying existence).
Alongside this performance, we get to know the artist better with some rare facts.
A lack of effort at school did not effect his final career
Nitsch’s self-proclaimed lack of effort at school led to his expulsion, though his talent for drawing allowed him to study painting and design at the Higher Federal Institution for Graphic Education & Research in Vienna. During his studies, he was also very interested in poetry, prose, theater and classical music.
Nitsch’s performances were often halted by the police; after a London show was shut down, his first wife divorced him. His second wife, Beate Konig, a child psychiatrist, sadly died in a car crash in 1977. Years later he married his third wife, Rita Nitsch.
With the inheritance from the death of his second wife, Nitsch bought the Prinzendorf Castle, in lower Austria in 1971. This marked a critical turning point in his career, where he discovered the idea of the Orgies Mysteries Theatre, a sensorial performance which has since been realised as the 6-Day-Play. Hermann Nitsch lived and worked at the castle in Prinzendorf until his passing in 2022. Today, young artists are eager to make pilgrimages to Prinzendorf Castle.
Nitsch has an adopted son named Leonhard Kopp, who has been present at and part of his artworks since his teenage years.
Over the course of his career, Nitsch has exhibited work at the Centre Pompidou, Paris; the Moderna Museet, Stockholm; the Leopold Museum, Vienna; the Albertina Museum, Vienna; and other institutions worldwide. His performances have also been staged internationally at venues in Vienna, New York, London, Havana, Leipzig, Hobart, and elsewhere. Pace Gallery now has a global representation of Hermann Nitsch in collaboration with the Nitsch Foundation and Galerie Kandlhofer.
Franzesco Conz and Giuseppe Morra are a few of his Italian supporters who were among the first to believe in Nitsch’s work.
An Italian newspaper described his work as the – ‘Devil’s mass’.
A surprising pet
Despite coming under scrutiny for his treatment of animals, Nitsch had a pet goat named Xy
Asolo in Italy became another home for Nitsch, where he would visit every year for around 20 years.
A brush with the law
The revered avant-garde artist was prone to shocking audiences. Throughout his career, he received several court trials, being charged with gross public indecency and sentenced to three prison terms. At one point he was expelled from Italy for disemboweling a sheep.