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Best of Italy
The Hermann Nitsch Museum
From horror to awareness
Housed in the halls of an old electric power station. Congealed blood, stretchers, phials and surgical instruments, extreme theatricality and provocations so as to generate catharsis in the visitor by Francesca De Filippi
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Museo Nitsch. 130.aktion. Photo courtesy of Biagi Ippolito

      If you walk down the charming little streets in the old town centre of Naples, almost getting lost in the intricate maze of paved alleys decorated here and there by the signs over the stores and the multi-colored geraniums hanging from the balconies, you come across one of the most important centers dedicated to contemporary art in the South of Italy: the Morra Foundation’s Hermann Nitsch Museum.

      Situated inside an evocative building from the 19th century, originally the home of an electricity power plant, and so built in compliance with the criteria of industrial architecture, the Hermann Nitsch Museum can be described a multi-functional center for the study, development and divulgation of visual arts. Dedicated to the father of the well-known Viennese Aktionen, it houses the installations and documents all the actions produced by the artist in co-operation with Giuseppe Morra since 1974. The building’s large spaces contain the “wrecks” of Nitsch’s actions: the photographic documents and the videos, the large canvases red with paint and congealed blood, the habits and the stretchers together with the shelves full of alembics, phials and surgical instruments define a complete map of the aesthetic of the Viennese maestro and founder of the Orgien Mysterien Theater. The alternating of the geometric volumes of the museum’s halls, and the sober architectural matrix creates an interactive dialogue with the works, which emanate a crude instinctiveness enlivened by the preponderance of the color red and the arcane and archaic aggressiveness of the images hanging on the walls. The atmosphere that is thus created reflects in full one of the artist’s fundamental concepts, that of Gesamkunstwerk, that is “everything as a work of art”.

      A concept that, since it is founded on a total sensorial involvement in the action , points to the way in which instinctual drives are to be sublimated. According to Nitsch, a state of psycho-physical alteration is the condition necessary for man to reach, in a ritual and purifying double valency, the peak of the state of awareness. Awareness that, on waking from its social convention-induced torpor, goes beyond the confines of the unconscious to reacquire the primordial purity and bestiality that used to belong to it. The simulacrum of taboo and common morality is defeated in the name of life. And it is for life’s sake that the artist relives the archaic rites of the religious matrix like animal sacrifice and propitiatory feasts, that become a privileged vehicle with which to stage the human tragedy. The extreme theatrical gestural expressiveness legitimated by ceremony, exasperates the need for a return to the origins. The exuberance of the matter and of the color, deliberately rendered more acute and pungent, becomes the deciphering term of the message. The obscene presentation of the flesh, innards and organs is, therefore, a representation of the crossing, the painful but cathartic step towards a superior state of happiness. The feast, like the famous Feast of Pentecost exhibited in 2002 by the Morra Foundation at Vigna San Martino, becomes a jubilation of bodies, the emanation of an inwardness in continuous search of itself. “Without cruelty there can be no feast, this is what man’s long history has taught us” says the artist.

      Everything is translated into harmony. The execution of the action becomes a pentagram of a choral symphony. The color is a prelude to the action, it is contemporaneously the instrument and the end, since it contains in itself the blinding power of light and carnality. The stretchers, the large monochromatic canvases “contaminated by the passing of the man that has made himself into a prophet invested with the sacrality conferred to the gesture, the drawings and the videos, are not only the imperturbable traces of aesthetic and semantic intent deliberately left by the artist, but also roots, though not static ones, for future actions. The aura emanated by the objects invested with the liberating power of archaic rite, propagates from the tissues, from the materials and from the images, modifying the environment and perception. And it is thanks to this modification that the Museum guarantees continuity to its mission of stimulating reflections and creative processes aimed at the promulgation and strengthening of art and visual communication.

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