Hermann Nitsch

Stedelijk Van Abbemuseum

In his filmed performance Maria Conception, 1969, Hermann Nitsch, dressed up in a chasuble and surrounded by his assistants, makes no concessions to illusion. The film’s directors, Irm and Ed Sommer, make it clear that the organizing idea of Nitsch’s simulated surgical operations and flowing blood is one of shock and horror; the distanced tone of their presentation makes his Orgies Mysteries Theatre come over like a slap in the face. The sadomasochistic performance, a welter of anarchism and religious references, culminates in the besmirching of a naked woman bound to a cross with the blood and entrails of a slaughtered lamb. The shock of horror felt by the viewer seems only minimally related to an esthetic.

Nitsch’s “actions” had power then, but time, the great healer, has made it easier to accept his extremism. Watching the performance that accompanied this exhibition, I thought that I

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