Maria Lassnig 1919-2014

“I have always strived, even in my youth, for a sort of presence. In my art, which is an art of immersion all the way to the fevers of the nerve fibers and their vibrations, I have conquered the haze of absence”.Maria Lassnig, November 16, 1996The National Gallery in Prague is proud to present “Maria Lassnig 1919-2014”, the first in Czech Republic large scale exhibition of the groundbreaking oeuvre of one of the most distinguished artists of the present day, Maria Lassnig (Austria, 1919-2014), on view along with “My Animation Is an Artform. Maria Lassnig, the Filmmaker” (Moving Image Department) which focuses on Lassnig’s pioneering animation work.Featuring over 50 large-format paintings, drawings and watercolor series, as well as sculptures and films that reveal Lassnig’s long standing exploration of the body and self-representation, the exhibition spans the artist’s entire, over seven-decades long, career; from the abstract works made during the 1940s in Vienna, through painterly experiments of the periods spent in Paris and New York, including cutting-edge cinematic work, down to the mature body of work after her return to Austria in1980, featuring rarely exhibited sculptures, and concluding with the paintings, drawings and watercolors made in the final years of her life that focus on self-portraiture and investigate the idea behind much of Lassnig’s art, namely the notion of “body awareness”, concentrated on the introspective experiences and depiction of the invisible aspects of the inner sensations, described by the artist in a following way: “I step in front of the canvas naked, as it were. I have no set purpose, plan, model or photography. I let things happen. But I do have a starting point, which has come from my realization that the only true reality are my feelings, played out within the confines of my body. They are physiological sensations: a feeling of pressure when I sit or lie down, feelings of tension and senses of spatial extent. These things are quite hard to depict”.Influenced at an early stage by art movements that celebrate gestural, informal and spontaneous practice such as art informel, tachisme and surrealism, but also by body art and performance art, Lassnig developed a singular body of work, making boldly expressive, brightly colored oil paintings with the human figure – often fragmented, deformed and rendered grotesque – at the centre of her compositions. Using herself as the subject of her paintings, they address the fragility of the body, the ageing process and the passing of time. They combine both, self-depiction and self-exposure, and reflect in the artist’s own words: “the loneliness of the critical person, the inability to exploit anyone else, meditation and the use of a scientific scalpel on a willing subject, the self”.Maria Lassnig was born in Kappel am Krappfeld in Carinthia, Austria in 1919. During World War II, she attended the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna and received her diploma in 1945. In an institution suffering under the weight of Nazism, where books on impressionism and expressionism were removed from the library, the artist developed a notion of “subjective color” and decided to focus on a profound analysis of her own (bodily) self. Back in Klagenfurt she surrounded herself with writers, painters and intellectuals from the contemporary art scene and continued painting elaborating an artistic process that revealed an early commitment to self-portraiture. In Austria Lassnig discovered surrealism and cubism, which influenced her early paintings from the 1940s and 1950s. Accompanied by Arnulf Rainer, she later travelled to Paris, where she met André Breton, Paul Celan and Gisèle Celan-Lestrange, Benjamin Péret and Toyen, who gave her an introduction to surrealism that she later described as a “liberation from tradition”. During this trip she was also inspired by art informel and made her early “body-awareness” drawings. Her stay in Paris between 1961 and 1968 resulted in a series of large-scale white paintings that she called “Strichbilder”, or “line paintings”, perceived as “body-sensation figuration”. Between 1968 and 1980 Lassnig lived in New York where she studied film and animation at the New School of Visual Arts while also developing her painting in new directions towards what she called “American realism”, a genre of painting where inner sensation and outer representation, in the form of realistically rendered bodies, were juxtaposed in single works. Lassnig stayed in the USA – in what she called “the country of strong women” – until 1980, when she returned to Vienna to teach until 1989. In the 1980s, the artist moved away from “realistic” representations and portraits, returning to abstraction as well as making “body-awareness” paintings and introducing themes of mythology and the archaic. In 1998 she begun a phase of “drastic paintings” in which she took on existential themes (illusions, relationships between the sexes, transience, death and destruction). In 2013 Lassnig completed her last portrait, “Self-Portrait with Brush”.Despite being largely underrepresented until recent years, Maria Lassnig has played an influential role in the development of painting in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Her visionary and uncompromising work has been met with critical acclaim and inspired subsequent generations of artists, including Paul McCarthy and Martin Kippenberger. Regarded one of the most important women artists of the twentieth century, along with Louise Bourgeois, Agnes Martin and Joan Mitchell, Maria Lassnig was a pioneer of female emancipation in a world of art dominated by men.Lassnig’s work received critical acclaim, when she represented Austria at the 39th Venice Biennale in 1980. Upon her return to Austria from NYC, she took over the position at the Academy of Applied Arts in Vienna and became the first female professor in a German-speaking country. In 1988 she was the first female artist to be awarded the “Grand Austrian State Prize”. Her artistic work has been presented at numerous international solo exhibitions, including “Maria Lassnig” at the Museum Moderner Kunst, Vienna, 1985; “From the Inside Out” at Stedelijk Museum, 1994; “Drawings and Watercolors 1946-1995” at the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, 1995, “Maria Lassnig” at MUMOK, Vienna, 1999; as well as at Serpentine Gallery, London, 2008, and MoMA PS1, New York, 2014. Lassnig participated in documenta 7, Kassel, 1982; 46th Venice Biennale, 1995; 4th Istanbul Biennale, 1995; documenta X, Kassel, 1997; 55th Carnegie International Pittsburgh, 2008 as well as in such important group exhibitions as “Broken Mirror” at Kunsthalle Wien, 1993; “Féminin-Masculin” at the Centre Georges Pompidou, 1995; “Wack! Art and the Feminist Revolution”, LA MoCA, 2007. She had been awarded the Golden Lion for lifetime achievement at the 55th Venice Biennale in 2013.“Maria Lassnig” and the accompanying “My Animation Is an Artform. Maria Lassnig, the Filmmaker” are modified version of the exhibition “Maria Lassnig” conceived by Tate Liverpool and curated by Kasia Redzisz with assistance of Lauren Barnes (18 May – 18 September 2016). The exhibition was prepared in cooperation with Maria Lassning Foundation Vienna and it is held under the auspices of the Austrian Embassy in Prague and with the support of the Austrian Cultural Forum in Prague.Curated by Adam Budak, in a collaboration with Kasia Redzisz Exhibition architecture: Jiri PrihodaProject manager: Jan Vitek