Hermann Nitsch, the notorious Austrian performance artist whose elaborate and gruesome “actions,” as they were called, often involved slaughtered and gutted animals, blood, feces and entrails, and conjured up Christian and pagan rituals, died Monday in Mistelbach, a town in his Close to home in Lower Austria. He was 83.
His wife Rita Nitsch confirmed his death in a hospital but did not give a cause.
Mr. Nitsch was a founding father of the Vienna Actionists, a small group of radical artists who, starting in the 1960s, turned artistic creation upside down, as many European and American artists were doing at the time, by throwing their bodies into the work. in the truest sense of the word and with all possible materials and methods to question social norms, political systems and artistic tropes. Joseph Beuys cuddled a dead rabbit and gave him a lecture on art (in a later work, he and a coyote hung out in a Manhattan gallery). The Fluxus pranksters, among other happenings as they were called, staged a mock mass with clerics in gorilla suits and a chorus of barking dogs. Yoko Ono asked an audience to cut their clothes with scissors.
The action painting of the Abstract Expressionists had given way to pure action—some mundane, like New Zealand-born artist Billy Apple vacuuming the roof of his Chelsea apartment, and some downright gross, like Vito Acconci, who spent days at the Sonnabend Gallery in New York masturbated SoHo.
The Viennese, on the other hand, were tougher. Mr. Nitsch, together with Otto Muehl, Gunter Brüs and Rudolf Schwarzkogler, put on gruesome, blood-soaked performances. Often they mutilated themselves.