Hermann Nitsch (1938 – 2022, Vienna) was celebrated as an iconic and dissident figure in contemporary art, being one of the co-founders of the avant-garde Viennese Actionism movement. His bold and often large-scale avant-garde paintings resulted from his prominent presence in reforming the canonical notion of art in the 1960s. Nitsch has worked with radically experimental and multimedia methods throughout his career. Often taking a performative role, Nitsch’s work takes the semblance of a pagan ceremony with robed processions, symbolic crucifixion, drunken excess, nudity, animal sacrifice, the drinking of blood, and the ritualistic incorporation of viscera and entrails. His audiences are active participants in his artistic liturgies; the vitality of his work remains.

Nitsch trained as a painter at the Wiener Graphische Lehr-und Versuchsanstalt, during which he was drawn to religious art. From 1957 onwards, the depiction of Dionysian revelry and ceremonies began to feature in his work prominently. That same year, he simultaneously conceived an idea for a radical theatre, which he called the ‘Orgien Mysterien Theatre.’ It was an attempt to create a ‘Gesamtkunstwerk,’ a ‘total work of art’ and a mystical, sensory experience for the viewer. The notion of ‘Gesamtkunstwerk’ has become intrinsic to his artistic practice and can be seen in many of his paintings.

His works capture the essence of his performative spirit and his undying fascination with the corporeal. As Nitsch has before stated: ‘Red is the colour that most intensively arouses attention because it is simultaneously the colour of both life and death’. His expressive use of paint transforms a blank canvas into a performative action, each one capturing and revealing an individual and spontaneous instance.

Selected Exhibitions

Tate Modern, UK; Centre Pompidou, France; Hauser and Wirth, USA; Fondació Joan Miró, Spain; Museum Moderner Kunst, Austria; Leopold Museum, Austria; Galleria D’Arte Moderna, Italy; Fondazione Morra, Italy; 20th Painting Action, Collateral Event, 59th Venice Biennale, Italy; Cuban Pavilion, 55th Venice Biennale, Italy; The Armory Show, USA; UM MUSEUM, South Korea; Hamburger Bahnhof, Germany; MOCA, Museum of Contemporary Art, USA; Nationalgalerie, Czech Republic; Documenta, Germany.

Selected Collections

MoMA, Museum of Modern Art, USA; Tate Modern, UK; Centre Pompidou, France; Solomon R. Guggenheim, USA; Metropolitan Museum, USA; Yale University Art Gallery, USA; Walker Arts Centre, USA; Busch-Reisinger Museum, Harvard University, USA; Gallery of Ontario, Canada.


Interested in Hermann Nitsch’s work?