Bloodlines - Herman Nitsch - MCA

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Required reading - exhibition notes -- Feb 4, 2011

Photoshopd-Nitsch.pngGlasses pile up lonely on small tables - half drunk, some empty, rings of wine at the bottom, inches left in some of red, some of urine yellow - abandoned outside the big gallery rooms.

It's a three-show opening and there are plenty of people at the Museum of Contemporary Art tonight. As I head off to the quieter side, I feel I'm sneaking into the bedroom to get some space from the party. In one big gallery is the work of Hermann Nitsch. The show is called Bloodlines.

Paintings on the wall are big, covered with red from edge to edge with drips - streams of red - and red footprints. Vestments - priests' garb - are displayed like saddles over saw horses, like Indian blankets at a flea market. This isn't craft elevated to the wall like a famous tapestry; the robes are folded to look like the priest is still in them, kneeling before the altar. There are several, maybe a dozen bold, multi-colored robes lying there in a much more intimate and ordinary way than I've ever seen vestments. They are not protected by a sanctuary or even a docent. No one advises me not to touch. And coming so close, I can see that each one took someone a long time to make and has suffered some wear over time.
Flowers are in the room - bright ones - like the robes - but I'm not sure it feels festive. More like an after-the-fest feeling. Religious images are pasted on some of the paintings, but no pang of sacrilege hits me. I'm reminded instead of the bad aesthetics of many an American church.

I grab the exhibition notes and proceed into a little hallway, jag around alone like I've found a secret passage. The nearby gallery is dim, and quiet like the one I just left. In the passage between them, a view opens to the main level: people drinking, laughing. Someone is running overhead and I can see the feet through the ceiling windows. 

Bloodlines - I read in the exhibition brochure - are paintings Nitsch made with blood (and mostly paint) in his studio and at a certain kind of happening the artist has directed since the early '60s, happenings called Orgy Mystery Theater.

When I arrive in the dim, next gallery, I'm oddly alone, like I've just missed something again. I can always feel regret when I think of having missed all the important art happenings, sit-ins and Woodstock. There are flowers and music and lots of red dominating the gallery space. Another priest's robe, painted with thick green paint, is stuck on the largest painting.

Not taking sacrilegious offense, I feel some Catholic guilt, the same guilt I feel being a tourist in a famous church and not doing the holy water routine. It's the guilt of not being a member. I don't dwell on this, I read the exhibition notes.

Nitsch, the brochure says, creates events where he makes these paintings. People get drunk, start smearing blood around and do who knows what else. Like the society in Lord of the Flies, the Orgy Mystery Theater drags in the participants, gets their hands dirty, makes them part of the pack.  I imagine that Nitsch creates a ritual that would be like one I could have had at Woodstock.

The notes tell me Nitsch means the event to be a cleansing ritual, a renewal, with blood that doesn't just cleanse, but also stains - hands and canvas. I get it. You get to be part of the mob, but the next morning, there is the guilt. The remo's.

I don't know if you need to have once been Catholic to know this guilt; it was certainly part of my catechism. It's a guilt that comes from having enjoyed something you know was wrong, or at least, you were told it was wrong: Rock&Roll, not wearing the burqa, drinking alcohol before your 21st birthday. And of course kids are busy doing the later because there is pleasure in guilt. And there are so few things a modern person needs to feel guilt about. So few that we, often, go out looking for them. 

I own the guilt of enjoying being Catholic and participating in the meaningless rituals to the point that I can still sing songs like the Gloria or that my arm knows how to make the sign of the cross although it quit doing that when I was 16. I can understand the satisfaction of guilt from being part of the pack, my pack that feeds on fears and offers illogical solutions. A pack that is one of the major causes of overpopulation.

Since the memory of being one with the mob, a conformist, a reciter of Latin gibberish can still give me a thrill: the big space, the meditation, the inspiration for rebirth, the passion, the mystery, I can easily imagine an orgy mystery theater, and how it might be rich with emotional food. 

When I look back up at the paintings, the blood-red is nothing like the red blood of Christ whipped up in my memory. The paintings are not vivid red as I had imagined, but more akin to faded abstract expressionism. 

An ordinary viewer can add too much. Or this show works to give a small glimpse to all the emotion and a big load of the remos.

Bloodlines, an exhibition of the work of Hermann Nitsch opened at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Denver, Feb 4, 2011. The artist will speak at the MCA on February 24. 

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This page contains a single entry by terry published on February 12, 2011 4:40 PM.

An Instinct Toward Life - MCA Denver was the previous entry in this blog.

Hermann Nitsch Talks at MCA Denver is the next entry in this blog.

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