Avant Pioneer Maria Lassnig At The Serpentine Gallery

By 24 Hour Museum Staff | 30 April 2008
an abstract painting of a shrouded woman

Maria Lassnig, Spell 2006. Courtesy the artist, Hauser & Wirth Zürich London and Friedrich Petzel Gallery, New York. © 2008 Maria Lassnig

Exhibition preview - Maria Lassnig at the Serpentine Gallery until June 8 2008.

The work of the significant avant-garde pioneer, Maria Lassnig, spans a career lasting 60 years, and her retrospective at the Serpentine Gallery showcases her recent series of bold and visceral paintings to full effect.

Viennese painter Lassnig’s works carry a bold feminist viewpoint and investigate the shady world of human emotions and bodily sensations. Bold forms and strong colours create portraits and semi-figurative abstractions, which reject the static traditions of conventional portraiture.

an abstract painting of a woman under a sheet of plastic

Maria Lassnig, Lady in Plastic 2005. Courtesy the artist, Hauser & Wirth Zürich London and Friedrich Petzel Gallery, New York. © 2008 Maria Lassnig

Her figures are contorted and seem in various states of distress and undress, some are suffused with a sexuality that some may see as perverse, whilst others are simply strange. All of them show the human figure in the raw.

Lassnig coined the phrase ‘body awareness paintings’ to describe a visual language that she invented and uses in her work to depict the invisible aspects of inner sensations where there is a continual resistance against the repetitive and static.

a painting of an old woman holding a gun

Maria Lassnig, You or Me (Du oder Ich), 2005. Friedrich Christian Flick Collection. © 2008 Maria Lassnig

She also uses her own body, which in her view is an inexhaustible subject, as a tacit source to explore human sensory experience. Visitors to the Serpentine show are welcomed by Lassnig’s naked self-portrait with guns (You or Me).

Born in Carinthia, Austria, in 1919, Lassnig trained in Vienna before going on to spend several years in Paris in the 1950s and 1960s. During this time she was exposed to Abstract Expressionism and Surrealism and visitors new to her work might see the strong influence of both of these art movements in her work.

an abstract painting of three figures

Maria Lassnig, 3 ways of Being (3 Arten zu sein), 2004. Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth Zürich London. © 2008 Maria Lassnig

Between 1968 and 1980 she lived in New York, making films that used her body awareness principles as a basis for a series inventive and humorous narratives – some of these rarely seen film can be seen at the Serpentine exhibition.

On her return to Austria in 1980 she became the first female Professor of Painting in a German speaking country at Vienna University of Applied Arts and she came to wider recognition when she represented Austria at the 1982 Venice Biennale.

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