A little context: The privately owned, Museo Jumex holds the most important collection of contemporary art in Latin America. Unpacked and ready to be installed in Galeria 2, a large scale exhibition by the Austrian artist Hermann Nitsch whose visual works: action paintings and graphic works, stands ready to be installed. The show was due to open on February 27 and continue until June 14, 2015. Yet four days ago, due to a petition by a misguided animal liberationist (we have been here many times before, and these people never take the time to actually understand the artists’ work), of 5,000 signatures, in a city of almost 20 million, and a truly historic show has been cancelled, without explanation, bowing to the pressures of sensationalism and tabloid journalism.
I admit to bias. Since co-curating Nitsch’s first UK exhibition, 1997/98, at 30 Underwood St Gallery, and having written on the artist at length, having taken part in the actions, and having the good fortune to call him a friend. I can honestly say he is one of the most important living artists of his generation. In the future his work will to be understood as an essential body of work like no other. For these reasons it seems absurd that Jumex Foundation should bow to the pressures of a tiny vocal minority, and miss the great opportunity of staging, what, esp. within the troubled times Mexico faces, will be a truly historically (as of course, aesthetically) vital exhibition.
Let me start by sharing an English translation of the Mexican counter petition ‘Si A HERMANN NITSCH’ (‘YES TO HERMANN NITSCH’), which I ask you to sign and share.
“YES to Hermann Nitsch – Who is Hermann Nitsch? He is a critic of the daily sadism of human consumption.
The actual debate that is taking place about whether or not to show Hermann Nitsch’s work at the Jumex Foundation Museum should not end with the cancellation of the exhibition. It would be a great stance for Jumex Museum of Contemporary art to support the work of Nitsch in the actual climate of violence that Mexico finds itself in. The work of Nitsch would lead to a healthy questioning of the double moral standards of contemporary Mexico, of a country that is flooded in blood. It is high time that cultural institutions take up their task, to bridge the gap between themselves and their larger audience. Rather than giving in to the forces of sensationalism and tabloid journalism, our institutions should instead be strengthening their position as mediators of polemic, of spaces of critical, aesthetic and political debate.
All of us are daily confronted with an endless flood of images of a brutality that is far beyond what seems to be seen on the surface of the work of Hermann Nitsch. It is for these reasons that it is crucial not cancel the show. Museums and cultural institutions should be spaces for critical aesthetic and cultural debate. The decision of Jumex Foundation to cancel Hermann Nitsch´s show removes the right we have to define our own sensitivity, towards an artist with a historic value beyond any petty discussion.
Without adding more I would like to invite you all to take the risk.”
It had long been a dream of Nitsch to show in Mexico for historical, spiritual, and aesthetic reasons that are self-evident. He also has a large following there, so at 76 years of age, he is obviously deeply saddened by this state of affairs. In 2012 Nitsch carried out a successful large-scale performance in Cuba, and now Mexico’s main foundation of contemporary art, cancels a show of such immense historical importance, bowing to a tiny minority of vociferous, misguided animal liberationists. And to be clear, the Jumex show was only to include Nitsch’s visual painting/graphic work. Nitsch works within the tragic tradition, in which of course all the big themes, of life, death, birth, slaughter, rebirth, transcendence are brought to the fore in what always ends in a celebratory acknowledgement of the existence of all beings, of existence itself. The violence is metaphysical, philosophical, but rather than being played in words, it is en-acted in reality of the performances. The purpose is to wake up the participants and the spectators, akin to the ‘satori’ moment of Zen Buddhism, and to do this, one must face the truth. He is a dramatist, in the tradition of the ancient Greeks, an interesting and vital artist/thinker whose’ gesamtkunstwerk’ (total work of art), brings together in a fascinating fashion, the avant-garde, but also the breadth and understanding of the great masters. In the words of the petition, is this decision is not overturned, it ‘removes [from the Mexican people] the right we have to define our own sensitivity, towards an artist with a historic value beyond any petty discussion.’ Please.
Words: Paul Sakoilsky, Artist and writer, London Photo: Courtesy Of hte artist all rights reserved.