Curated by Julia Peyton-Jones and Hans Ulrich Obrist, assisted by Rebecca Morrill
Maria Lassnig (born 1919) is an avant-garde pioneer who has produced fresh and vibrant work for 60 years. She has remained independent from many art historical movements and yet her work has consistently engaged with successive generations of artists. For much of her career, Lassnig was celebrated mainly in Austria and Germany, but the significance of her work has now been recognized through exhibitions worldwide.
Lassnig’s bold and visceral paintings reject the static tendencies of traditional portraiture. She coined the phrase body-awareness paintings to describe a visual language that she invented to depict the invisible aspects of inner sensation painting the body from the inside out. She frequently uses her own image as a means of exploring and representing human experience. This exhibition, her first solo museum presentation in the United States, focuses primarily on the extraordinary paintings produced over the past five years, including self-portraits, semi-abstract figurations and works from a series of paintings of couples.
Lassnig trained at the Academy of Fine Arts, Vienna, and then spent several years in Paris in the 1950s and 60s, where she was exposed to Surrealism and Art Informel, a European counterpart to Abstract Expressionism. From 1968 to 1980, she lived in New York, where she made a series of inventive animations, several of which are included in this exhibition. Drawing on some of the same themes and subjects as her paintings, the narratives make astute observations of the complexities of male-female relationships and present her experience of being both a woman and an artist. She returned to film-making in 1992, producing Kantate, her most celebrated film, which presents her life story in a 14-verse song, performed by the artist.
In 1980, Lassnig was invited back to Vienna to become the first female professor of painting in a German-speaking country at the Academy of Applied Arts and her work received wider recognition at an international level when she represented Austria in the 39th Venice Biennale that same year and participated in Documenta 7, Kassel, in 1982. Since then, Lassnig has had numerous solo exhibitions, including: Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, 1994; Muse national d’Art moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, 1995; Museum moderner Kunst, Vienna, 1999; and Kunsthaus, Zurich, 2003, as well as many commercial gallery exhibitions. Her work was recently featured in the major American touring survey Wack! Art and the Feminist Revolution organized by The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, 2007 and was included in the 55th Carnegie International, Pittsburgh, 2008, Life on Mars.