The universal artist Hermann Nitsch has been working on the theory and realisation of his Orgien-Mysterien-Theater since 1957. This is a dramatic epic, for the complete realisation of which the artist has designed an underground ideal architecture, a play district with his place of residence and work, Schloss Prinzendorf, at its centre. From 1963 onwards, he presented central motifs of the play, designed as a 6-day "existential festival", in numerous actions worldwide. He was able to apply the open structure of this mystery play to a variety of spaces at his disposal, from the basement studio in the 1960s, to abandoned church rooms and a Roman amphitheatre in the 1970s, to the stage space of the Burgtheater in Vienna (2005) or in the large Malaktion on the stage of the Festspielhaus in Bayreuth in the course of his production of Richard Wagner's Valkyrie, realised shortly before his death. In 1998, a version of the Orgien-Mysterien-Theater’s six days and nights was realised for the first time and Nitsch thus joins the history of visionary, art-expanding work designs, from Monet to Turell, from Scriabin to Artaud, from the Living Theater to Schlingensief.

In accordance with the synaesthetic structure of his art, an extensive visual, musical and literary oeuvre is organised around the dramatic structure of the Orgien-Mysterien-Theater, in which the artist was able to develop the motifs and symbolism of his material and visual language, the spatialisation and the detailed "action scores".

Accompanying this was a detailed theory with which Nitsch proposes a historical contextualisation, cultural-historical genesis and impact-historical underpinning.

The central motif and theme in Nitsch's art is the representation and overcoming of the tragic, even death, through cathartic recognition. This desire also refers to his native city of Vienna with all its cultural and political upheavals experienced in the 20th century between imperial splendour, apocalyptic sinking and the difficult cultural-political reconstitution and finding of identity after 1945. Born in the year of the “Anschluss” to Germany and thus the end of Austria as an independent state entity, Nitsch experienced the bombardments and the fight for Vienna as a child. These experiences undoubtedly shaped his work and, as part of the first Austrian post-war avant-gardes and a member of Viennese Actionism, he made a powerful and still controversial contribution not only to redefining the position of contemporary art but also, in many fundamental disputes and discussions, to building an open and liberal socio-political and cultural climate in the Second Republic.


Hermann Nitsch's art, which is also in the tradition of Viennese modernism and its Byzantine ornamentation, was oriented towards the colour theory of the Orgien-Mysterien-Theater developed by him from the mid-1960s onwards. Synaesthesia, the emphasis on the simultaneous and structured perception of colour, sound and other sensory stimuli is not only decisive for Nitsch's event art, but is also the basic idea behind his staging work in the field of music and opera literature. Through them he was able to apply the formal and symbolic language of the Orgien-Mysterien-Theater to the opera stage. This is directly visible, for example, in the style and colouring of the costumes. With extensive relic combinations, but also in the form of video/space installations, he has thematised the basic synaesthetic structure of the Orgien-Mysterien-Theater.


After Nitsch ended action painting in 1963 - only to take it up again around 1983 - he began to extend the formal vocabulary of the Orgien-Mysterien-Theater into space beyond the pictorial collages (relic collages) that were now being created. In an unrealised project for the rooms of the Vienna Secession, sketches for table actions emerge around 1965. He also worked on sketches for an opera in which he distributed musicians across the room for a concert hall modelled on the Vienna Musikverein, while motifs from the Orgien-Mysterien-Theater were shown on stage. Nitsch also sketches his ideas for an architecture of the Orgien-Mysterien-Theater on first sheets.

Since Nitsch does not want to limit the events of the Orgien-Mysterien-Theater to a stage or a room, but rather envisions a free space of movement (e.g. within the framework of the dramaturgy of processions), he designs an ideal space in his architecture, an exterritorially conceived play area with his place of residence and work, Schloss Prinzendorf, at its centre. Part of this area is the complex system of an underground city, in which corridors and caves are driven into the ground. This in-depth architecture metaphorically formulates the psychoanalytical dynamics of the play. Sprawling biomorphic forms are reminiscent of tissue structures, organ systems or fluid circuits and have dominated his work in drawing and printmaking since the mid-1960s.


Painting occupies an important position in Hermann Nitsch's work. The artist has always emphasised that it occupies an equal role in his overall oeuvre in the sense of the synaesthetic approach. Ultimately, he wanted to create a work of art that, in his words, can be "experienced with all the senses". Nevertheless, in the years between 1960 and 1963, under the influence of and as a critique of the abstract expressionism of the Paris and New York schools (Yves Klein, Jackson Pollock), he succeeded in creating a remarkable early work. Nitsch wants to extend painting beyond the picture format into space, it should become part of the Orgien-Mysterien-Theater, but also of his stage interpretations of classical works from opera literature, such as the production of Richard Wagner's Valkyrie in Bayreuth 2021. From 1963 onwards, he concentrated on the elaboration and implementation of his actions and, especially with the painting action in the "Vienna Secession" in 1987, began the second part of his complete painterly oeuvre. Also, under the influence of his increasing occupation as a composer and the colour theory of the Orgien-Mysterien-Theater, already defined in the 1960s, he now finds his way to an extremely extended and multi-layered chromaticism. The impasto, even pulpy, application of paint used in many series as well as the combination of the canvases with the painting shirts used in the painting actions emphasise the sensuality of the application of paint. Particularly in the last years of his work, he concentrated on translating his musical compositions into colourful, virtuoso and indulgent painting; his world became colour and light and the tragedy of the cathartic tearing action was complemented in his late painterly work by a reconciliatory creative power in painting.

Museum St. Peter/Sperr

Museum St. Peter/Sperr
Johannes von Nepomuk-Platz 1
2700 Wiener Neustadt
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