Hermann Nitsch, 83, dies; Artistic transcendence sought in blood and guts

Hermann Nitsch, the celebrated Austrian performance artist whose elaborate and macabre ‘actions’, as they were called, often involved slaughtered and disembowelled animals, blood, excrement and viscera and evoked Christian and pagan rituals, died on Monday in Mistelbach, a town near his home in Lower Austria. He was 83 years old.

His wife, Rita Nitsch, confirmed his death, in a hospital, but did not give a cause.

Mr. Nitsch was a founding father of the Viennese Actionists, a small group of radical artists who, from the 1960s, disrupted artistic creation, as many European and American artists did at the time, by throwing their bodies in the work, literally, and using all sorts of materials and methods to challenge social norms, political systems and artistic tropes. Joseph Beuys cuddled a dead rabbit and lectured it about art (in a later work, he and a coyote were hanging out in a Manhattan gallery). Fluxus pranksters staged a fake mass, among other Happenings, as they were called, with clergymen in gorilla garb and a chorus of barking dogs. Yoko Ono invited an audience to cut out her clothes with a pair of scissors.

Abstract Expressionist action painting had given way to just action – some mundane, like New Zealand artist Billy Apple vacuuming the roof of his Chelsea flat, and some just plain crude , like Vito Acconci. masturbating for days in the Sonnabend Gallery in SoHo.

The Viennese, however, were more hardened. Mr. Nitsch, along with Otto Muehl, Gunter Brüs and Rudolf Schwarzkogler, put on gruesome and gory performances. Often they mutilated themselves.

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