© Hermann Nitsch_Museum Jorn

Curator Florian Steininger

Jorn - Nitsch is the first exhibition at the nitsch museum Mistelbach in which Hermann Nitsch's artistic work is juxtaposed with a second position. Alongside Karel Appel and Pierre Alechinsky, Asger Jorn (1914 Vejrum - Aarhus 1973, Denmark) is one of the best-known protagonists of the CoBrA group, one of the leading avant-garde movements of the post-war period in Europe, which spoke out in favour of originality and freedom in art. Florian Steininger, the artistic director of the Kunsthalle Krems, has curated the exhibition. At the same time, Museum Jorn in Silkeborg is showing a Hermann Nitsch solo exhibition, which opens on 13 June.
"The opportunity to put other national and international artists from the fields of action art, painting, music, theatre, graphic art and philosophy in context with the work of Hermann Nitsch, and to work out influences, parallels and significant differences, will open up new perspectives on the artist's work. In future, the nitsch museum will devote itself to these exhibition opportunities, but at the same time solo exhibitions of Hermann Nitsch will continue to be a central task of the museum," says Michael Karrer, artistic director of the nitsch museum, about the new exhibition program.

Protestant north meets catholic-baroque Weinviertel

The greatest similarities between the two artists can be found in the mythical-cultic and the gestural-material aspects of their painting. Asger Jorn thematises Nordic culture, the "vandalic", in the form of archaic paintings, drawings and sculptures. Jorn's artistic exploration of the Celtic in the northern European cultural sphere of prehistory forms a bridge to the neighbouring MAMUZ Museum in Mistelbach. Nitsch immerses himself in the spiritual-Dionysian world of intoxication, ecstasy, eroticism, pain, annihilation and ultimately resurrection. 
Jorn's and Nitsch's paintings are characterised by sensual power, physical commitment and materiality. With his action paintings and Schüttbilder from the early 1960s onwards, the Viennese actionist had decisively expanded the panel painting and defined it as a preliminary stage to his Orgien Mysterien theatre. Above all, his late painterly work is filled with gestural discharges of impasto materiality and strong colouring. Jorn draws from the unconscious beyond the rational world and creates hybrid-organic form wildness that dissolves into an abstract painting substance. 
A further parallel can be found in the use of drawing and the primacy of the line, whether Jorn's archaic-childlike cephalopods and human-animal creations or Nitsch's anatomically and organically characterised architectural notations in his graphic work.


Florian Steininger

Asger Jorn's artistic work begins in the early 1930s and extends into the early 1970s. Painting and drawing are the genres that define his media, complemented by sculptural practice, prints, poster art and literary works. After his first exhibition in his Danish hometown of Silkeborg, the artist left his provincial, conservative environment and travelled to the art metropolis of Paris. There he worked in Fernand Léger's studio and assisted Le Corbusier for the World Exhibition in 1937. The early works in the exhibition illustrate the artist's love of experimentation, such as the "Flottagen" from 1939, monotypes on a liquid ground that show blurred plant and figurative impressions. In contrast, the nude drawings and the skull study still seem committed to a classically naturalistic, depictive concept of art. The physical presence in the picture as a physical imprint is characterised by the painting of the sole of the foot from 1940. Reference should be made here to Hermann Nitsch's integration of his body in his Schüttbilder in the form of hand and footprints, as a direct actionist trace on the canvas. Body and painting unite.  

The Danish artist draws and paints from the unconscious. Archaic-mythical sources flow into his intuitive artistic practice. Hybrid human-animal metamorphoses, Kafkaesque beetles and snarling goblins from the dark side of the world flow out of the pen and onto the sheet of paper. The CoBrA group (1948-1951), co-founded by Jorn, is based on the primacy of archaic, pre-cultural art, art brut and children's drawing and positions itself against all rationalism and academicism in art.

Jorn is the artist of the North, of pre-cultural savagery. The "barbaric" culture of Northern Europe from the Bronze Age onwards, especially the Scandinavian countries, is opposed to the Western culture of classical antiquity in the Mediterranean region. Jorn's figurations are wild, archaic: metamorphic cephalopods with snarling mouths. They are powerful images of the north.

In his paintings from the 1950s to his late work, Jorn is the great wildman of forms, the picture surface becomes an expressive, informal primordial matter from which surreal, grotesque creatures grow and disappear again at the same time. Impulsiveness, the flowing and surging of the masses of colour, determines the pictorial process. A deliberate dismantling of the painting culture comes into effect, the unconscious used purposefully, flirting with the originally raw. Hermann Nitsch's late paintings bear witness to a similar pastose, sensual structure with colourful power, albeit purely determined in the painterly non-representational. A physical burrowing in the pulpy bowels of painting. Jorn's late work in particular is characterised by brightening colourism, the dark of the night gives way to the light. His ceramics, plates, figurines and abstract forms correspond to the panel paintings of this phase in their process-like, informal form.

Printmaking sheets with gestural-expressive traces in red-fiery and blue-watery atmospheres complement Jorn's painterly-informal work in the exhibition.

At the beginning of the 1960s, he created experimental abstract pours of lacquer colour, the so-called "Luxusbilder". Dripped systems of lines interlink on the picture surface to form cosmic areas. In the style of Jackson Pollock's drip paintings, Jorn's drippings are ironically broken, with a Dadaist flavour, abstract bad paintings without any claim to sublimity. Nitsch's first dripping paintings, charged with physical impetus, were created around the same time as Jorn's dripped paintings. In the modifications around 1960, the Danish artist appropriated existing kitsch images, which he painted over as a destructive act against conventional realistic painting. Jorn's decollages of poster scraps form abstract, colourful compositions. He uses advertising posters whose capitalist content the left-wing revolutionary artist destroys. In 1968, Jorn joined the student revolutions in Paris and created agitational art posters. In the same year, the "Uni-Ferkelei" performance Art and Revolution by the Vienna Actionists, of which Hermann Nitsch was a member, took place at the University of Vienna.

The Danish artist was always interested in an innovative, open artistic practice with a broad spectrum for imagination and freedom.  


Florian Steininger

Hermann Nitsch's earliest graphic examples are dedicated to the human body. Inspired by Rembrandt's Hundertguldenblatt, Nitsch created an etching in 1956, which was included in the Orgien Mysterien Theatre's architecture series in 1987; the image was subsequently reworked with colour. Precise, old-masterly anatomies of the head and body complement the selection of prints with multiple overprints, poured and painted over. The printmaking work culminates in the Last Supper on fabric with actionist overpainting of the human figure frieze. In 1959-61, concentrated informal notations of curls, spirals and garlands are created as pure abstract graphic expression. The informal trace is echoed in the late work as colouristic scatterings on the sheet.
On the opposite wall of the corridor, Nitsch's paintings correspond with the works on paper, from the early Schüttbilder from the 1960s to the colourfully expressive late work. Thin paint made of dispersion or acrylic soaked in blood, as well as impasto material oil or acrylic paint wet and cover the jute of the picture support: monochrome paintings in bloody red, fasting cloth-coloured violet, existential black as well as in colourful bloom.
In the summer of 1959, Nitsch visited the exhibition Junge Maler der Gegenwart at the Künstlerhaus, which included works by Yves Klein, Pierre Soulages and Georges Mathieu. Mathieu performed at the Fleischmarkt theatre in April 1959 and created a monumental, theatrical action painting. On the same evening, Markus Prachensky demonstrates his Peinture Liquide by letting red paint run down the top edge of an erected canvas. In 1960, albeit in private, Prachensky painted a ten-metre-wide red and white action painting in the first room of the Galerie St. Stephan with violent brushstrokes and pours. Arnulf Rainer's central and vertical designs of the early 1950s also come to mind, as pure expression, as the nucleus of the artistic gesture. In 1960, Hermann Nitsch created his first poured paintings, such as Opus 18, an iconic dark panel with fine red rivulets. The panel painting becomes a sacred, bloody, maltreated body. Similar panels were arranged to form a "small altar of existence" in the shape of a cross. Nitsch then intensifies the expressionist physical gesture and hurls red emulsion paint onto the coarse jute surface of the painting, attacking it with hand and foot and thus physically marking the painting. Action and painting unite on the canvas. From this point onwards, Nitsch's pouring paintings with thin, fluid paint substance made of dispersion or later acrylic, to which blood is subsequently also added, are characterised by running down the canvas vertically and pouring it horizontally. From the early 1990s onwards, the artist used impasto oil paint and, in his late work, acrylic paint, as a material paste and thick paste in which he rummaged and smeared, leaving his physical traces on the picture surface. The focus is not on the form, the object, the depiction, but on the process using the body and the materiality and its realisation. Nitsch's informal actionist painting is in the tradition of tachism and action painting in post-war art. "after the second world war, a type of painting emerged that did not want to depict anything, that did not want to reproduce anything already present in nature, but rather concrete processes took place within the pictorial structure on the canvas itself, which themselves, or their effects, were put on display. The colour was not understood as a colour tone but as a substance, as a paste or liquid that was smeared or spilled. The results were achieved through the gestures and motor skills of arm and hand movements, scribbling, smearing, substances, liquids, colours were sprayed, flung, poured, etc. onto the canvas. the viewer's ability to see the action was a not insignificant aspect of this art," says Nitsch. Nitsch's paintings are unique, immediate throws. Nitsch's painting is always linked to the universal dimension of his Orgien Mysterien theatre. Painting action and theatricality need each other. Despite the claim to a Gesamtkunstwerk, this exhibition focuses on the painter Nitsch and the pictorial power of his individual works, from the early Schüttbilder to the more painterly-material paintings in the multicolourist spectrum. An ensemble of paintings with integrated painting shirts introduces the show at the nitsch museum.

In collaboration with

Florian Steininger is director of the Kunsthalle Krems. He studied art history at the University of Vienna. From 2001 to 2016 he was curator at the Bank Austria Kunstforum Wien. He has curated numerous projects on modern and contemporary art, such as Roy Lichtenstein, Willem de Kooning, Frida Kahlo, Warhol & Basquiat, Axel Hütte, Hubert Looser Collection, Per Kirkeby, Hans Op de Beeck, Teresa Margolles, Helen Frankenthaler, Eduardo Chillida and Thomas J Price.

  • © Josef Schimmer
  • © Josef Schimmer
  • © Josef Schimmer
  • © Josef Schimmer
  • © Josef Schimmer
  • © Jorn Museum
  • © Jorn Museum
  • © Jorn Museum
  • © Jorn Museum
  • © Jorn Museum

TIPP: HERMANN NITSCH - Der Triumph des Exzesses

14.6.-22.9.2024, Museum Jorn, Silkeborg

Im Sommer 2024 zeigt das Museum Jorn die erste umfassende Einzelausstellung in Dänemark mit dem international bekannten österreichischen Maler und Aktionskünstler Hermann Nitsch (1938-2022).

Nitsch zählt zu den provokativsten bildenden Künstlern der europäischen Nachkriegsavantgarde. Als Mitbegründer der radikalen ästhetischen Bewegung Wiener Aktionismus, die durch performative künstlerische Tabubrüche die Normvorstellungen der modernen Gesellschaft in Frage stellte, suchte er in den 1960er Jahren bewusst die Auseinandersetzung mit dem staatlichen System und dem darin verankerten christlich geprägten Wertekanon.

Nitschs Leben und Kunst können als ein grosses Passionsspiel bzw. als aktiver Prozess übermäßigen Leidens charakterisiert werden. Seine zahlreichen Auftritte im öffentlichen Raum und seine ausdrucksstarken Gemälde zeichnen sich durch eine intensive Aneignung religiöser Rituale und Symbole aus. 

In Nitschs ästhetischer Produktion, die im sogenannten Orgien Mysterien Theater gipfelt, wo Performance, bildende Kunst, Musik, Wissenschaft und Leben zu einem opulenten und rituell gesteigerten Gesamtkunstwerk verschmelzen, wird geschlachtet, gekreuzigt und beschworen!

Die Ausstellung im Museum Jorn ist retrospektiv angelegt und umfasst mehr als 150 bedeutende Gemälde, raumgreifende Installationen, Videos, Fotografien, musikalische und grafische Werke aus den 1960er Jahren bis 2022. Die Arbeiten befassen sich mit einer Vielzahl Themen und Genres, mit denen Nitschs anspruchsvolle und ausdrucksstarke Kunst operiert.

Das Projekt wird unter der Schirmherrschaft der Österreichischen Botschafterin in Dänemark und in enger Zusammenarbeit mit dem nitsch museum in Mistelbach, der Nitsch Foundation in Wien und dem Privatnachlass des Künstlers in Prinzendorf realisiert.

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