At the Musée de l’Orangerie, in Paris, color in action according to Hermann Nitsch


“Splattered Painting” (May 2021), by Hermann Nitsch, acrylic on canvas.

Hermann Nitsch (1938-2022) is part of the art of the second half of the 20th centurye century for his decisive role in Viennese actionism. In 1957, he formulated the principles of what he called Theater of orgies and mysterieswhich owes as much to the theater of cruelty according to Antonin Artaud (1896-1948) as to the Wagnerian “total” work of art and to theaction painting New Yorker. From 1962, with Otto Muehl (1925-2013), they accomplished Actions, performances where their bodies are put to the test of brutal and often humiliating treatment: bound in painful or grotesque positions, smeared with animal blood or paint, coated with flour, etc. Crucifixion of Christ, martyrdom of saints, sacrifices characteristic of so many religions are constantly repeated there.

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Austria’s then-recent Nazi past and the bigotry of the country’s almost obligatory Catholicism are also recalled. Also the public interventions of Nitsch, Muehl and other actionists – Gunter Brus, born in 1938, particularly – they provoke scandals, arrests and trials. In 1967, Nitsch had to leave Austria for Germany in order to escape.

These terrible performances, continued and amplified throughout his life, go hand in hand with pictorial creation: on increasingly vast surfaces, invading space, he projects in abundance streams of red and blacks which splash, explode, trace flows and form thick skins, which seem to be covered with scars and strewn with clots.

Dynamism of the gesture

This tragic expressionism lasted around thirty years. In 2000, Nitsch became involved in Cycle of Resurrection, “very cheerful final chapter of my total work of art”he wrote in 2007. In this chapter, Claude Monet (1840-1926), whom one would not have expected to see emerge like this, becomes more and more important to him. “His quest for light allowed Monet to catalyze a development in painting without referring to myth or religion. His work moved towards the resurrection”, he affirms, in 2021, in one of his final texts, while the project of an exhibition of his most recent paintings near the Water lilies is launched.

The artist died on April 18, 2022, the project at the Musée de l’Orangerie, in Paris, became a tribute. On the floor of Water lilies, on the one hand, in the room reserved for contemporary artists in the bat, on the other hand, are hung some of his large canvases from 2020 and a set of works in oil pastel on paper from 2020-2021.

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