Lot Sale Results

Hermann Nitsch

Hermann Nitsch
Post-War & Contemporary International Art Online auction

Lot # 209

Hermann Nitsch
1938 - Austrian

oil on burlap
on verso signed and dated 1986 and dated on the stretcher
78 x 118 in  198.1 x 299.7cm

Lonti Ebers Fine Arts Inc., Toronto
Private Collection, British Columbia

Susan Jarosi, “Traumatic Subjectivity and the Continuum of History: Hermann Nitsch’s Orgies Mysteries Theater,” Art History 36.4, 2013, pages 834 - 863

For the Austrian artist Hermann Nitsch and his compatriots in Vienna Actionism, art is in no way a mere representation of life or reality but instead an intimate, often violent, part of it. He is best known for his many elaborate “Actions” since the late 1950s, extreme theatrical productions initiated that reached a climax in a six-day performance of the ongoing Orgies Mysteries Theater in 1998. Never passive observers, audience members participated in these events. American “Happenings” guru Allan Kaprow contextualized the purposeful excesses of Nitsch’s actions by describing the artist as “the Grünewald of Happenings,” a reference to the sixteenth century German master’s Isenheim Altarpiece (circa 1512 - 1516), which depicts Christ’s suffering during the Passion in grisly, naturalistic detail. Ritual and violence are, for Nitsch, a legacy of Christianity that can be explored in art. Art historian Susan Jarosi elaborates: “In the effort to illuminate and even reanimate the continuum of historical violence prosecuted in the name of institutional power, Nitsch restages and interweaves violent foundational narratives of Western myth and religion and destructive historical events with their successive iterative expressions in a multitude of symbolic forms.”

Untitled is part of an extensive series of so-called “splatter paintings” begun by Nitsch in the 1980s. Already stapled to its stretcher, the canvas was placed on the floor to activate the performance dimensions of painting. Nitsch would hurl pigment onto the canvas from its perimeter, which yielded a thick buildup of paint in some areas and a splash effect in others. He then instructed assistants to walk across the wet surface in specific ways, making a unique record of the interactions of materials, artist and other participants. At least two pairs of feet and one set of hands are discernable here. Just as the blood red pigment seems to explode outward from the confines of its support, so too the traces of bodies registered by the footprints track through, and by implication well beyond, the canvas.

The splatter paintings are performative in themselves and in their imbrication with Nitsch’s more elaborate actions. An active witness to the Orgies Mysteries Theater in 1998 makes the connections between painting and ritual clear: “Audience members were led up the flight of stairs into the dimly lit space and instructed to stand only on the stretcher bars of the canvases on the floor. Working with buckets of blood, brooms, and large brushes, and proceeding briskly but methodically from one end of the hall to the other, Nitsch and several assistants threw, poured, and painted blood over the floor and walls as the audience did its best to dodge both the painters and the splattering blood. As a result, the spectators’ movements were very much dictated by the path of the painting action, and we were forced to squeeze ourselves against one wall and then the opposite.”

Involved though its creation was with Nitsch’s other performances, Untitled can also be considered more immediately. It tests the parameters of abstract painting as a category and challenges a conventional, formal reading of what we see on its surface. While Nitsch’s splatter technique consciously makes reference to Action Painting, for example, the traces of the human body that it records make the painting immediately material and corporeal rather than abstract in the sense of being removed from nature. Untitled implores us to question barriers we may want to establish between art and life.

We thank Mark Cheetham, author of Abstract Art Against Autonomy: Infection, Resistance, and Cure Since the 60s, for contributing this essay.

Please note: this work is unframed.

Estimate: $40,000 ~ $60,000 CAD

Sold For: $55,250.00 CAD (including buyer's premium)

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