Hermann Nitsch at Pace Gallery, New York

Selected Paintings, Actions, Relics, and Musical Scores, 1965–2020

On 16 March 2023, Pace Gallery New York will open a retrospective of the Viennese artist Hermann Nitsch (1938-2022). The exhibition, entitled Hermann Nitsch – Selected Paintings, Actions, Relics, and Musical Scores, 1965–2020 is a celebration of the artist’s contributions to the avant-garde and a testament to his enduring legacy. The retrospective initially began as a collaboration with the artist, however, after his passing last April, the solo exhibition became a way to honour the completion of one of Nitsch’s final projects.

Hermann Nitsch, Schüttbild, 1992 © Hermann Nitsch Foundation

Nitsch was an interdisciplinary artist that pioneered the Viennese Actionism movement and spearheaded the character of the city’s avant-garde performance scene in the second half of the 20th century. His artistic repertoire includes performance, painting, drawing, film, photography, philosophy, and musical composition. Nitsch’s work experiments with nudity, gore, sacrifice, and the role of these elements in religion and contemporary culture. The artist’s acrylic and mixed media “action paintings” often mimic, or include, blood-splatter with expressive, gestural brush strokes. The artist’s performances often involve blindfolded nude actors interacting with the blood and body parts of deceased animals, often lasting for hours as the figures must remain in character.

Together these works explore ritual sacrifice, as many of the works included Christian allusions, like crucifixion and priests’ robes, as well as humanity’s more primitive inclinations. Nitsch’s works are meant to be confrontational and sensational, combining sensuality, vulnerability, and revulsion with a visceral engagement of all five senses in order to “bring [the audience] an understanding of their existence.”

Hermann Nitsch, Schüttbild (action painting), 20th painting action, Secession Vienna 1987. Oil on canvas, 200 x 300 cm. Photo by Liesl Biber. Courtesy of the Nitsch Foundation. ©Atelier Hermann Nitsch.

The Pace exhibition will feature a survey of Nitsch’s work over the course of 55 years, including a selection of Nitsch’s paintings and drawings and photographs taken from performances like Penis Irrigation Action (1965) and the Orgies Mysteries Theatre (1998). Pace Publishing will also partner with the Nitsch Foundation to translate the artist’s oral autobiography, published in 1995, into English. 

Nitsch’s musical compositions will be incorporated into an accompanying contemporary performance by Miles Greenberg, which serves as a homage to the durational performances of the Orgies Mysteries Theatre.  The commission, entitled Fountain II, will consist of performers engaged in a six-hour-long choreographed embrace on a white plinth while dyed red water drips streams over them from the ceiling and bleeds to the pool of water below. This deeply poetic and visceral work will occur with a selection of Nitsch’s paintings as the backdrop, combining sensory cues relating to gore and pain with sensual choreography and intimacy to explore the complex emotions that occur during the final stages of heartbreak – “when one turns their entire body inside out to reach a sort of ecstasy,” says Greenberg. The performance serves as a connecting force between modern experimental performance and historical, creating a dialogue between the living contemporary artists and the past avant-garde. 

Miles Greenberg, Fountain I, 2022. Photo by Maria Baranova. WORTHLESSSTUDIOS, Studio Miles Greenberg.

The retrospective will run until April 29, 2023 at Pace’s 510 West 25th Street location in New York. The exhibition prefaces other celebrations of Nitsch’s work around the world, including another episode of the 6-Day-Play at Prinzendorf Castle in Austria, the artist’s home, inspired by the Orgies Mysteries Theatre on May 28-29. A collection of the artist’s works will be featured in an exhibition at the Museum at St. Peter an der Sperr in Austria in autumn. One of Nitsch’s musical compositions, IX Symphony (The Egyptian) will see its debut performance in the Golden Hall at Musikverein Vienna on Halloween. Additionally, the British Museum will hold an exhibition later this year featuring several of Nitsh’s works.

Contact us for more information on Hermann Nitsch and his work.