Austrian performance artist, painter, writer and composer. He attended the Graphische Lehr- und Versuchsanstalt in Vienna from 1953 until 1958, after which he worked in the Technisches Museum in Vienna as a graphic designer. Most of his work of the 1950s was conceived as a form of written preparation for the projected staging of a large-scale Gesamtkunstwerk, the form of which, as a six-day festival, was first thought up in 1957 and entitled the Orgies–Mysteries Theatre. In 1960, following his return to painting influenced in particular by Arnulf Rainer, he held his first performances at the Technisches Museum, which were based around the art of painting, but which gradually came to incorporate such props as animal carcasses. In this year he also met Otto Muehl, Günter Brus and Rudolf Schwarzkogler. By 1962 he had moved from the painting performance to the performance or Aktion itself, when, tied to the wall of Muehl’s flat in Vienna as if crucified, blood was poured over him. This established the crucifixion as one of the major themes of the Orgies–Mysteries Theatre. In 1964 he was a founder-member of the Aktionismus group and also in 1966 of the Institut für Direkte Kunst. While sharing an anti-aesthetic that focused on the body, the literary origins of Nitsch’s work marked out the essential differences between his activity and that of the other members of Aktionismus, which was less overtly symbolic in its imagery. However, it was in the positioning of the Aktion in the context of rituals derived from religious liturgies that the differences became acute. Muehl criticized this pseudo-religious structure, for where he sought to achieve catharsis through the personal investigation of repressions and the achievement of personal freedoms, Nitsch was interested in the manner in which organized ritual could lead to a collective state of catharsis. This stimulation of the awareness of repressed feelings and emotions was further emphasized by Nitsch’s development of the concept of the Abreaktionsspiel, an appropriation of the psychoanalytic term ‘abreaction’. In 1971 he established a studio for his performances at Schloss Prinzendorf, near Vienna, and in 1975 he staged a performance lasting from sunrise on 26 July to sunrise on 27 July, using a bull and 11 sheep. This represented the first realized part of the Orgies–Mysteries Theatre, after which, while continuing the performance element of the work, Nitsch pursued musical composition and other aspects of the Gesamtkunstwerk. A later performance lasting three days and nights, Three Day Play, was also staged at Schloss Prinzendorf in 1984. He also exhibited works in which the activities of the Aktionen appear to be documented and the quasi-religious garments of the performers are fixed to massive canvases, splattered with intense colour. Although these recalled the spontaneity of the Aktionen, they also used orthodox painting materials (e.g. Shake Picture with Shirt, oil and blood on canvas, 2.0×3.0 m, 1989; untraced, see 1991 exh. cat.).
From Grove Art Online
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