Hermann Nitsch

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Hermann Nitsch, 2009

Hermann Nitsch (born August 29, 1938 in Vienna ) is an Austrian painter and action artist . He is an important representative of Viennese actionism .


After graduating from the graphic teaching and research institute in Vienna, Nitsch took a position as a commercial graphic designer at the Technical Museum in 1957 . A few years later the first painting actions arose and also the idea of ​​the orgy-mystery theater , which from then on occupied him incessantly and in which all his endeavors were concentrated. Its held in Vienna in the public action work conducted in the early 1960s to constant confrontations with the authorities and several weeks spent in prisons that led to emigrate the artist in 1968 to Germany.

After the great success of the orgy and mystery theater in the USA and Germany in the late 1960s, Nitsch carried out actions in many European and North American cities during the 1970s. In 1971 he succeeded in purchasing the Lower Austrian Prinzendorf Castle from the possession of the church, where Nitsch also realized his ideas of music for his theater in the course of larger-scale activities. Noise orchestras, choirs and electrically amplified instruments were used for the actions. Nitsch interpreted life as passion , the painting process as condensed life and thus as the epitome of passion.

The artist himself remained present through his painting shirts, which he wore at a central point in the painting, and animates the viewer to identify with the painting process and to enter the picture with him. After visiting professorships at the Staatliche Hochschule für Bildende Künste - Städelschule in Frankfurt am Main and the Hochschule für bildende Künste Hamburg , Nitsch taught a class for interdisciplinary art at the Städelschule from 1989 until his retirement .



One of the poured pictures on a parking garage in Vienna

In 1960 he created his first poured pictures . 1962 was the year of birth of Viennese Actionism . Together with Otto Muehl and Adolf Frohner , he realized the three-part campaign “ The Blood Organ ” in Vienna , for which a joint manifesto was published. At the beginning of the 1960s, he developed the main ideas for his theater of orgies and mysteries: Including all art forms (painting, architecture, music, sacrificial ritual , mass liturgy, etc.), the participants' senses should gradually be tensed to the utmost in order to reach a climax Making knowledge of the life process itself possible: repetition of Freud's 'totem meal'. From November 1988 to January 1989 the Städtische Galerie in the Lenbachhaus in Munich showed some of the artist's works as part of the solo exhibition "Nitsch - Das Bildnerische Werk" .

Since 1971 Nitsch has been organizing his “Orgy-Mystery Games” on the Prinzendorf Castle area he acquired, including the high point of his life's work, the great “6-Day Game” in the summer of 1998, directed by Alfred Gulden , as well as his own 120th "2-day game" promotion in summer 2004.

In 1972 Nitsch was a participant in the Documenta 5 curated by Harald Szeemann in Kassel in the Individual Mythologies department ; he was also represented at Documenta 7 in 1982. In 1975 Marina Abramović took part in a performance by Hermann Nitsch, whereas in the following actions no further collaboration with independent artists was sought, but lay people who can reapply for each action. In addition to Abramović, Christoph Schlingensief also refers to the work of Nitsch. On November 19, 2005, the 122nd action of the Orgies-Mysteries-Theater took place in the Vienna Burgtheater as part of the 50th anniversary celebrations for the reopening after the war .

Nitsch was repeatedly invited to bring his views of art and ritual to the opera . In 1995 he co-directed the Vienna State Opera and created the equipment and costumes for Jules Massenet's opera Hérodiade . In 2001 Nitsch was responsible for the stage design and costumes for the performance of the Gandhi opera Satyagraha by the American composer Philip Glass in the Festspielhaus St. Pölten in Lower Austria . In 2005 he created the equipment for Igor Stravinsky's Le Renard . In 2007 he directed the scenes from Goethe's Faust by Robert Schumann at the Zurich Opera House . In 2011 he was responsible for the scenic conception, design, stage design and costumes for Saint François d'Assise by Olivier Messiaen at the Bavarian State Opera in Munich .

Hermann Nitsch's worldview is strongly influenced by mystical authors, but also by de Sade , Friedrich Nietzsche , Sigmund Freud and Antonin Artaud , among others . In his theoretical book “Orgien-Mysterien-Theater”, Nitsch stated that his actions and images should first cause disgust and disgust in the audience , then catharsis . The provocations that trigger disgust and disgust and the connection of real animal carcasses and real blood with religious content such as the crucifixion and the immaculate conception are consciously used by Nitsch in order to get the viewer to reflect on symbolic topoi such as blood and death that are often suppressed in everyday life , which also play a central role in the Christian religion. Christian viewers and numerous critics have perceived his actions and works as blasphemy .

In connection with his theater of orgies and mysteries, Hermann Nitsch is also active as a composer and writer. His actions are noted in meticulously noted scores, which, in addition to instructions and texts, also contain graphically noted pieces of music.

Because he excites not only animal rights activists, but also theologians and representatives of public morality to comment by including and combining sacrificial rituals and liturgical elements in his bloody actions, his work is highly controversial in public. Conversely, some action and performance artists, including former comrades-in-arms, distance themselves from what they consider to be the all-too-religious, all- art work-like element of his work. In terms of content, his total work of art at Prinzendorf Castle can certainly be interpreted as an attempt at a counter-concept to Wagner's Bayreuth . Whether this can succeed is still extremely controversial.

What remains is the undoubtedly great influence of Nitsch on the Austrian, especially the Viennese art and culture scene. The fact that his mystery play has now also been played in the Vienna Burgtheater testifies to his great personal assertiveness. Ultimately, Nitsch appears as a representative of an archaic and provocative aesthetic , which some classify as original and artistically valuable, while others classify it as primitive, presumptuous and tasteless.

On May 24, 2007, the “Hermann Nitsch Museum” was opened in the Mistelbach Museum Center , which led to protests among parts of the Mistelbach population . In Naples on September 13, 2008, Nitsch's long-time gallery owner Peppe Morra opened a museum dedicated exclusively to Nitsch's work, the “Museo Archivio Laboratorio per le Arti Contemporanee Hermann Nitsch”, which was set up in a former power station.

In the Weinviertel, not far from his Prinzendorf Castle, Hermann Nitsch owns his own vineyard. The yields from this are pressed according to the old farmer's style and filled into double-liter bottles (Doppler). The Nitsch-Doppler, whose label Hermann Nitsch artistically redesigns every year, has been presented to the public in Vienna since 2006.

In 2009 the Nitsch Foundation was founded, the aim of which is to convey and document Nitsch's total work of art.


Despite his international roots in the art business and numerous awards, Nitsch is still one of the most publicly controversial artists in his country. Christian and religious people accuse him of blasphemy . Animal rights activists get excited about the handling of slaughtered animals as part of his rituals. Even decades after Nitsch was fully established in the art world, this criticism has not died down. Left-liberal authors such as Hilde Spiel also expressed humanistic concerns about the “rawness” of his actions.


  • Orgy-mystery theater. Orgies Mysteries Theater , Darmstadt, March-Verlag 1969, 342 pp.
  • with Sophie Cieslar : “Those who love being must look death, the tragic in the eye” , in: Parnass, 24 (2004), no. 3, pp. 128-133, color ill.
  • King Oedipus. A playable theory of drama , Berlin, Knoblauch / Edition Kalter Schweiss 1986, 165 pp. + Beil.
  • The theater of orgies and mysteries. Manifestos, essays, lectures , Salzburg, Residenz-Verlag 1990, 168 pp.
  • Pabellón de las Artes, Seville, September 1-20, 1992 , Pabellón de las Artes, Seville 1992, 120 p., Mainly Ill.
  • Composition for organ , Extraplatte publishing house, 1 audio CD, 74 min., ISBN 3-221-31294-6 .
  • with Dieter Schrage : Hermann Nitsch, 6-day game in Prinzendorf 1998. Relics and relic installations, action painting, photos and video ; Museum of Modern Art Ludwig Foundation in Palais Liechtenstein , March 27 - May 16, 1999, 1999, 144 pages, numerous. Ill.
  • with Michael Hüttler : Hermann Nitsch. Vienna lectures , international contributions to theater studies at the University of Vienna, Vienna, Böhlau 2005, 248 pages, ISBN 3-205-77480-9 .
  • Ed. Michael Karrer: Herrmann Nitsch - The total work of art of the Orgien Mysterien Theater , Walther König bookstore, Cologne 2015, ISBN 978-3-86335-702-3 .

Public collections


  • SMAK - Stedelijk Museum voor Actuele Kunst, Ghent






United States

United Kingdom


Secondary literature


Web links

Commons : Hermann Nitsch  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Marion Ackermann: Drei: Das Triptychon in der Moderne , Hatje Cantz Verlag, 2009, p. 225
  2. ^ Hermann Fillitz, Wieland Schmied : History of the Fine Arts in Austria: 20th Century , Volume 6, Prestel, Munich, 2002, ISBN 978-3-79132516-3 , p. 163
  3. Manifest “Die Blutorgel”, Vienna June 1962. ( Memento of the original from November 23, 2010 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was automatically inserted and not yet checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. , accessed October 21, 2012.  @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot / www.museumonline.at
  4. Irene Netta, Ursula Keltz: 75 years of the Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus and Kunstbau Munich . Ed .: Helmut Friedel. Self-published by the Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus and Kunstbau, Munich 2004, ISBN 3-88645-157-7 , p. 221 .
  5. Holger Mehlig / AP: Hermann Nitsch retrospective: - battles, crucifying and screaming , in: Der Stern from November 29, 2006
  6. ^ A plea for Hermann Nitsch's retrospective in Berlin. , Süddeutsche.de, May 17, 2010
  7. ^ Hermann Nitsch: 3-day play , Centraltheater Leipzig, 21. – 23. June 2013
  8. a b Bavarian State Opera: Biography Hermann Nitsch ( Memento of the original from May 14, 2010 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link has been inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot / www.bayerische.staatsoper.de
  9. Christian Bührle: The journey is the goal  ( page can no longer be accessed , search in web archivesInfo: The link was automatically marked as defective. Please check the link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. @1@ 2Template: Toter Link / www.schumann-portal.de   . Neue Zürcher Zeitung, June 21, 2007
  10. ^ Hermann Nitsch, Orgien Mysterien Theater / Orgies Mysteries Theater , März-Verlag, Darmstadt, 1969
  11. Wieland Schmied, Blasphemy or Theodicy? , in: Bernhard Dieckmann (Ed.): The victim - current controversies. Religious-political discourse in the context of mimetic theory , German-Italian conference of the Guardini Foundation 1999, LIT Verlag Münster, 2001, ISBN 3825847551 , p. 99ff.
  12. Naples honors blood artist Nitsch with museum , Spiegel Online, August 19, 2008
  13. Archived copy ( Memento of the original from September 19, 2008 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot / www.art-magazin.de
  14. ^ Johann Werfring: The Austro-Magnum of Hermann Nitsch . In: “Wiener Zeitung”, March 31, 2017, supplement “Wiener Journal”, pp. 36–37.
  15. This applies, among other things, to quotes such as the following stage directions from Hermann Nitsche's work “The Conquest of Jerusalem”: Quotation 1: “... if Christ killed a cow, he lies on the back, skinned and still twitching animal, licks the genitals the cow and sticks its tongue deep into it… ”. Quote 2 "... Christ licks and licks the bloody excrement from the open intestines and the genitals of women ..." Quote 3 "... Homosexuals jump on the armor and mate Christ, who cries loudly and lustfully ..."
  16. See the protests in Palermo in summer 2015 [1] .
  17. Spiel notes, for example, that Otto Mühl (* 1925), Hermann Nitsch (* 1939) and Günter Brus (* 1940) “introduced the happening in Austria and carried it out in a mystagogical and brutal way” and continues: “The the whole subliminal rawness of the Viennese folk character, that demonic underground of its cosiness, which satirists from Kraus to Qualtinger have seen through and described, emerged in their ceremonial animal slaughter, their coital and faecal presentations ”. Quoted from Hilde Spiel: Kindler's literary history of the present: authors, works, topics, tendencies since 1945, vol. 5, Kindler, 1976, ISBN 3-46322003-2 , p. 109ff.
  18. pp. 163-192, 214-216, 243-249, 207, 269-272, 281-298