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Hermann Nitsch’s Dark Mofo

Hermann Nitsch’s 150.Action, part of the Hobart-based MONA Museum’s Dark Mofo festival, took place on 17 June (Image: Dark Mofo/Lusy Productions).

Tim Stone, Despite protests, Tasmania gives Nitsch his biggest-ever audience, The Art Newspaper, 19 June 2017

Bloody performance at MONA Museum’s Dark Mofo festival attracted 900 visitors.

As people queued for Hermann Nitsch’s 150.Action, part of the Hobart-based MONA Museum’s Dark Mofo festival on 17 June, a group of 50 animal rights activists held a peaceful protest outside the venue.

With a large line of attendees starting to snake its way into the security screening area, protestors offered up alternatives, “why not go to the beach instead” said one protestor, “visit an animal sanctuary”, said another.

But this audience was not interested, they were here for the challenging art experiences that have helped put the privately-owned-museum and its festival offshoot on the map.

“Asking people to push themselves out of their comfort zone is core to our ethos,” said Dark Mofo’s artistic director, Leigh Carmichael.

The protests, that started in response to the announcement of “a bloody, sacrificial ritual performed by the patriarch of Viennese Actionism,” gained momentum in the lead up to the event. Over 22,000 people signed an online petition, and at one stage the festival cancelled tickets after a plot to disrupt the performance was discovered.

In five short years, Dark Mofo festival, has turned winter, once the quietest time of the year, into a peak tourist season. But in programming 150.Action, had Carmichael gone too far this time?

Nitsch is no stranger to controversy. In 1988, on his first visit to Australia, Police seized video tapes from his exhibition of blood paintings at the seventh Sydney Biennale.

Surprisingly, Nitsch shares the views of the animal rights activists that decry him, “I show with my work, what we are doing against the animals. That’s the great misunderstanding,” Nitsch said ahead of the performance in Tasmania.

Once known as Australia’s most conservative state, 150.Action was going to be a test of Tasmania’s willingness to embrace its new identity as a world-leading, risk-taking, artistic hotspot.

Around 2,650 people registered their interest in 150.Action and approximately 900 tickets were issued on the day. Prior to Hobart, the largest audience for the Austrian artist was in 1988, when 800 people attended a six-day-action held at Nitsch’s private castle, Prinzendorf in Lower Austria.

Seventy-eight-year-old Nitsch did not take part in 150.Action, instead he presided over the performance, which took place on a tennis-court-sized white canvas floor in a disused warehouse. Nitsch’s long-term accomplice Leo Kopp, directed, while his assistant Joseph Smutny, led 30 performers through a physically gruelling, blood-covered performance accompanied by a score composed by Nitsch, and a 20-piece brass band.

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Council of Australasian Museum Directors, c/o Ms Daryl Karp, Museum of Australian Democracy at Old Parliament House PO Box 3934 Manuka, Australian Capital Territory 2603 Australia, © CAMD 2022
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