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Hermann Nitsch: Provocation as artistic performance

Returning to Rome is an installation by one of the key figures of European Body Art, and of the theatre happenings of the 1960's and 1970's

Nine years after his most recent exhibit, Hermann Nitsch returns to Rome, to the Hofficina d'Arte gallery with his installation Roma 2009. The exhibit, inaugurated on November 27th, will run until January 20, 2010, and is curated by Claudio Marcantoni with the collaboration of Francesco Villari, of the Morra Foundation of Naples and of the Nitsch Museum, from which come the works on display.

Hermann Nitsch (Vienna 1938) is one of the artistic stars of the latter half of the 20th century, and the key figure alongside Gunther Brus, Rudolf Schwarzkogler and Otto Muhl – in the Wiener Aktionismus, the movement which in the 1970's represented the furthest extreme of European Body Art.

By 1957-1960, however, Nitsch had already laid out his idea for the Orgien Mysterien Theater (Theater of Orgies and Mysteries): a total-art experience, or Gesamtkunstwerk, tied to the psychoanalytic concept of Abreaktion
, that is, the emotional release that allows a subject to remove the effects of dramatic events. The carrying out of orgiastic and onanistic acts together with a performance of sacrificial rites (recalling pagan mysteries and the Christian Passion), must allow for the cathartic liberation of religious, moral and sexual taboos. In the meantime – having graduated from the Institute of Experimental Graphics in Vienna – Nitsch painted in the field of tachisme: the movement that interpreted Informal culture, highlighting the immediacy of the act of pouring or splattering colors onto a canvas, or applying them directly by hand.  

Beginning in 1961, the happenings became more intense. Starting in 1962, Nitsch was included as a passive-actor “crucified” while covered in red (sometimes from the blood of sacrificed animals). Over the course of the 1970's, the actor-spectator numbers grew, along with the number of materials used, including elements such as animal offal and scenic apparati. He pushed the envelope further and further (in 1965 he was even jailed for 14 days), and the international network grew wider, especially with Germany (Beuys, Vostell) and the U.S. (Kaprow, Fluxus group). In 1971 he purchased the Prinzendorf Castle, 50 km outside of Vienna, which would become the site of his Orgien Mysterien Theater, whose happenings began on the Sunday of Pentacost, 1973. In 1974 he came into contact with Peppe Morra and his studio in Naples, and performed his 45th happening, for which he was deported from Italy.

In the same year, Morra organized a monumental happening in Dusseldorf, Germany, which ran uninterrupted for four days. In 1977, when his wife Beate died tragically, he commemorated her with a happening in the church of St. Lucia in Bologna. In 1979 he moved to Campania for a period to live in the home of fishermen near the Cuma archeological site near Naples. The place turned out to be a great inspiration for him, an ideal location for a new happening, 'Cuma konig oidipus III.fest. The piece was completed and published after 11 years, in 1988. Over the course of the 1970's and 1980's, he participated more and more frequently in international exhibits, at prestigious museums, in conferences and musical concerts.

From the 1990s onwards, exhibitions (solo and group exhibits) became his focus. These had a sharp expressive energy, in which Nitsch installed relics, objects, materials, large-scale paintings, scores and graphic projects that gave life to his unique experience in art, which fused theater, painting, music, photography, video and performance art.

With the opening of a Hermann Nitsch Museum-Archive-Laboratory in Naples in 2008, in celebration of his 70th birthday, there was a consolidated meaning of the critical celebration of a personality that represents a high level of extremes, challenges and issues of contemporary society.
Hermann Nitsch, Untitled, 1987, mixed media on paper
Hermann Nitsch, Untitled, 1987, mixed media on paper

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