Hermann Nitsch, the provocative Austrian activist known for using blood and cadavers in his work, has died aged 83

Hermann Nitsch, the Austrian artist who used blood, guts and paint splatter in ritual and often controversial artworks about religion, war and metaphysics, died yesterday, April 18, 2022. He was 83.

The news was confirmed by the artist’s family, who said in a statement shared with Austrian news channels that he died peacefully “after a serious illness”.

“We deeply mourn the death of Hermann Nitsch”, the artist’s foundation said, didn’t just call him a “performance artist, painter, graphic artist and composer” but also “a husband, father, friend, mentor and companion.”

Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen echoed the sentiment on social mediawriting, “His work will live on, I’m sure.”

20th painting action (1987). © Hermann Nitsch. Photo: Heinz Cibulka. ” width=”1024″ height=”541″ srcset=”https://news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/2022/04/Hermann-Nitsch-1024×541.jpg 1024w, https://news.artnet .com/app/news-upload/2022/04/Hermann-Nitsch-300×158.jpg 300w, https://news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/2022/04/Hermann-Nitsch-50×26.jpg 50w ” sizes=”(max-width: 1024px) 100vw, 1024px”/>

Herman Nitsch, 20th painting action (1987). © Hermann Nitsch. Photo: Heinz Cibulka.

Nitsch’s death coincided with the first day of the 59th Venice Biennale, where his 20th painting action, a series of cast paintings created in Vienna 35 years ago, are featured in an exhibition presented by Zuecca Projects in collaboration with Galerie Kandlhofer. Nitsch did not travel to Venice for the opening.

The show is the first time that all components of 20th painting action have been exhibited since they were created at the Vienna Secession in 1987.

To inaugurate the occasion, a large private dinner was held in the exhibition space last night. Attendees told Artnet News that they were unaware of Nitsch’s status at the time of the event.

“While the timing was unexpected, it somehow feels appropriate that we honored him and his artistic genius last night,” said art consultant Rebecca Taylor, who attended the dinner. “He was an extraordinary artist and a very special person.”

Born on August 29, 1938 in Vienna, Nitsch was a founding member of the Viennese Actionists, a loosely affiliated group of Austrian avant-garde artists who practiced a confrontational form of performative art. It was around 1957 that he first became pregnant with Orgies Mysteries Theatera complex artistic ritual that involved blood, animal carcasses, religious offerings, music and dance.

These performances resulted in Nitsch’s ‘action paintings’, his signature works. The first example came in 1960 and involved the splashing and smearing of paint on canvases. In the following years, Nitsch began using blood, crucified animal cadavers, and other non-traditional materials. In 1963 he had completely given up painting.

Hermann Nitsch, <i>83rd action</i> (1987).  © Hermann Nitsch.  Photo: Heinz Cibulka.” width=”1024″ height=”769″ srcset=”https://news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/2022/04/05-1024×769.jpg 1024w, https:// news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/2022/04/05-300×225.jpg 300w, https://news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/2022/04/05-50×38.jpg 50w, https://news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/2022/04/05.jpg 1332w” sizes=”(max-width: 1024px) 100vw, 1024px”/></p>
<p class=Herman Nitsch, 83rd action (1987). © Hermann Nitsch. Photo: Heinz Cibulka.

In 1971 Nitsch acquired Prinzendorf Castle in Lower Austria, where he would live, work and organize numerous actions for the next few decades. The self-described pinnacle of his career came in 1998, when Nitsch took off 6 days of playa marathon action with about 500 performers (many of them mounted on crosses), 13,000 liters of wine, hundreds of liters of blood and several cadavers.

“I demand a direct sensory experience from my audience”, the artist wrote of the event† “The piece had guidelines telling them to taste, smell, look, listen and touch. Meat, entrails and fruits were given to the public to touch and feel. Fragrances were spread, incense and other materials were burned, liquids such as blood, fuel, vinegar, milk, urine, gasoline, turpentine, ammonia, hot water were poured through the theater hall. All this led to the [Orgies Mysteries Theater]which surpassed language.”

6 days of play will be performed in abbreviated form for the second time ever in the Prinzendorf on July 30 and 31 of this year. The foundation said it was Nitsch’s “specific wish that his overall artwork” Orgies Mysteries Theater will continue after his death.”

“Today the world lost a pioneering artist who redefined performance and painting through his visceral and existential work, which will live on and inspire future generations of artists,” said Marc Glimcher, CEO of Pace, which began representing Nitsch (in collaboration with Galerie Kandlhoferthe and the artists’ foundation) in February.

His passing comes at a poignant moment as we mark his achievement with an exhibition in Venice that we hoped to celebrate with him.”

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