Hermann Nitsch’s final exhibition 20. Malaktion can now be seen during the 59th Venice Biennale – 71Bait

Hermann Nitsch 20th painting action February 18-21, 1987 Secession, Vienna ©Hermann Nitsch Photo: Heinz Cibulka

Hermann Nitsch died peacefully on April 18, 2022 at the age of 83 after a serious illness.

20. Malaktion is Hermann Nitsch’s (*1938, died 2022, Vienna) last major exhibition of Helmut Essl’s private collection in collaboration with Galerie Kandlhofer with the 20th painting action, which was originally created and presented in the Vienna Secession, Vienna in 1987. The 20th Painting Action is the only painting by the artist to remain in one collection, and the exhibition marks the first time that the works of the 20th Painting Action have been seen together since their original creation and exhibition in Italy. The exhibition is on view at Oficine 800 on Giudecca Island in Venice during the 59th Venice Biennale until July 20, 2022.

Installation photo Hermann Nitsch, 20th painting action Vienna 1987 – Venice 2022

“Each age has its own art. Art its freedom” is the motto formulated by the art critic Ludwig Hevesi (1843-1910), which can be read above the portal of the Vienna Secession in Vienna. Few artists have tested the limits of freedom as consistently as Hermann Nitsch – and have been harassed and persecuted so often, with criminal charges, protests and threats. Despite all resistance, he stuck to his idea of ​​a fusion of all arts and today stands as a monolithic figure in the art history of the 20th century. With his “Orgien-Mysterien-Theater” he created a total work of art for all the senses; he expanded the traditional parameters of painting and theater; he brought back into contemporary art the cult element that stands at the beginning of the evolution of art; and he merged art with life.

Installation photo Hermann Nitsch, 20th painting action Vienna 1987 – Venice 2022

Nitsch was a pioneering artist of Viennese Actionism, whose painting marks the beginning of his action art. On November 18, 1960, under the influence of Informel, he realized his first action art, in which the painting no longer represents anything outside of the picture, but rather represents pure colour, direct gesture and condensed time. In a nutshell, his painting shows “the visual grammar of actions on a picture surface”.

Installation photo Hermann Nitsch, 20th painting action Vienna 1987 – Venice 2022

As early as 1957, Nitsch was working on the idea of ​​his “Orgy-Mysteries-Theater”. Influenced by the philosophy of Nietzsche and Schopenhauer, Greek tragedy and the idea of ​​the total work of art developed by Richard Wagner, he designed a gigantic drama lasting several days. In it he processed, among other things, the Oedipus story, Atreidai materials, the Christian Passion story and the Grail and Nibelungen legends, around religions and myths as a magnificent cultural collage. The basic concern of the wide range of ideas in his “Orgy-Mysteries-Theater” is the intensification of life experience and thus increased joy in existence as a mystery of being, with art taking over functions performed by religions. In 1963 he gave up painting for 20 years to devote himself exclusively to his actions and to work on the realization of his ultimate “Six Day Game”.

At the beginning of the 1980s, Nitsch returned to action painting, which is not only to be seen as an immanent part of the work, but also as a critical response to the painting of the “Neue Wilden” that dominated the art market at the time. The 20th painting action, which he carried out in the Vienna Secession in 1987, is characterized by the scope, quality and subjective importance that Nitsch attaches to it. The central space of the Secession with its sacred quality suits Nitsch insofar as he strived for the “sacralization of all art” from the beginning.2 For him, art is “something similar to art”, just like “art practice corresponds to a ritual.”3 The 1898 The “Temple of Art” created by Josef Maria Olbrich becomes the stage for a cult painting action. It is also the fulfillment of a long-cherished wish, because as early as 1964 there was a sketch by Nitsch for an action at the Vienna Secession.

The works of the 20th painting campaign in the Vienna Secession impressively reveal their genesis, which took place between “unleashed outbursts of anger and tender gestures”. We immerse ourselves in a painterly, actionist environment in which the basic constants of his work spread visually, located between the momentary and the eternal, dynamically moving and contemplative calm, the real and the symbolic, between purity and stain, overwhelm and reflection.

With the large-format cast image (5 x 20 m) on the front wall, the large splatter image (10 x 10 m) on the floor and flanking numerous smaller splatter and cast images, a room-filling panorama is created that illustrates the nature of Nitschs in a compressed form like no other painting as one
an integral part of his synaesthetically conceived “Orgy-Mysteries-Theater”.

Nitsch explained:

“I wanted to show how spilling, splashing, smearing, and splashing a red liquid can evoke sensually intense excitement in the viewer and invite sensually intense sensations.”

As part of his extensively conceived “Orgy-Mysteries-Theatre”, the painting action is intended to trigger an increased experience of sensual reality in the audience, which ideally leads to reflection on one’s own existence.

The renewed integration of the works from the 20th painting action in the historic room of the Oficine 800 on the island of Giudecca not only enables a recapitulation of Nitsch’s most important works; it also allows Nitsch’s artistic ideas, which are located between the ecstatic and the contemplative, to be understood and re-experienced.

Hermann Nitsch, 20th painting action Vienna 1987 – Venice 2022 Oficine 800, Fondamenta S. Biagio, Venice On view: – July 20, 2022 Wednesday to Monday. Closed on Tuesdays. 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Press viewing hour: April 19 – 22, 2022, 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. admission free for free
Reachable by: “Palanca” vaporetto stop, lines 4.1/4.2 or 2 utiply.com/utiply-art-collection

@zuecca_project_space @galerie.kandlhofer

About the artist

Hermann Nitsch Photo Philipp Schuster

Hermann Nitsch (* August 29, 1938, † April 18, 2022, Vienna) is a co-founder of Viennese Actionism and, alongside Allan Kaprow, Joseph Beuys and Günter Brus, is one of the international pioneers of performance art. As an actionist, painter, graphic artist, stage designer, Writer and composer, he was one of the few contemporary universal artists. The “Orgy-Mysteries-Theater” he conceived and developed is the implementation of his idea of ​​a total work of art in which all human senses are used. In 1971 he succeeded in acquiring Schloss Prinzendorf in Lower Austria for his OM-Theater, where he was able to realize his last 6-day play in 1998 after decades of preparation. A museum in Mistelbach has been dedicated to him since 2007, presenting his work in ever new facets. Nitsch has exhibited at the documenta several times and was represented at the Venice and Sydney Biennials. He carried out more than 150 actions worldwide and received retrospectives at the Van Abbe Museum, Eindhoven; the Lenbachhaus, Munich; the Martin-Gropius-Bau, Berlin; and the Albertina, Vienna. Works by Nitsch are in the world’s most important collections and museums, including the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Guggenheim Collection, New York; the Metropolitan Museum, New York; the Tate, London; the Center Georges Pompidou, Paris; the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam; the Castle of the Rivoli; the GAM, Turin; the market, Rovereto; the North Rhine-Westphalia Art Collection, Düsseldorf; the Museum Ludwig, Cologne; the National Gallery Berlin; the Lenbachhaus, Munich; the Munich State Painting Collection; the Stuttgart State Gallery; the Kunsthalle Hamburg; the Kunstmuseum Bern; the Kunstmuseum Winterthur; the Albertina, Vienna; mumok, Vienna; and the Austrian Gallery Belvedere, Vienna; and Leopold Museum, Vienna. In 2008, Giuseppe Morra, a longtime patron of the artist, opened the Museo Hermann Nitsch in Naples, Italy, dedicated exclusively to the artist’s work.


  • Art Stuff Venice


Leave a Comment