Umělec magazine 2008/2 >> A place in front of the picture List of all editions.
A place in front of the picture
Umělec magazine
Year 2008, 2
6,50 EUR
Send the printed edition:
Order subscription

A place in front of the picture

Umělec magazine 2008/2

01.02.2008

Lenka Vítková | review | en cs de es

Maria Lassnig, Serpentine Gallery, London. Curator: Julia Peyton-Jones and Hans Ulrich Obrist, April 25 – July 8, 2008

At the recent London exhibition of Austrian painter Maria Lassnig (b. 1919), the large, bright walls of the elegant Serpentine Gallery display sizable figurative oil paintings, often self-portraits, some schematic male and female figures on a white background or symbolic bodies on color. None are older than three years; they’re often nudes or self-portraits. In the same way that she uses painting simply as a means of expression, which entails expressive gesticulative strokes and geometrical abbreviations on a flat avant-garde-influenced surface, she also uses herself as a model.
When I speak, I use words such as "like" and "simply." I think it’s the nature of thinking. I think in analogies and clarify them through speaking. In this essay I want to stress the word "only." I’ll talk about a number of limitations.
Lassnig studied at the Akademie der bildenden Künste in vienna in 1941-44 and at the School of Visual Arts in New York in 1970-72. She lived on and off in Paris, New York and Vienna, where she taught in 1980-97 at Hochschule für angewandte Kunst, becoming the first female professor of painting in German-speaking countries. Her gender has been a topic of discussion on other occasions as well. A story from a trusted source says that curator Rudi Fuchs answered the artist’s question of why it was harder for her than for others of her generation to get onto the major art scene in the 70s and 80s by saying: “Because you’re a woman and of a certain age.” It’s important not to underestimate the gender question when viewing the paintings. But in this case, the major difference is the fine distinction between a man drawing male and female bodies and a woman—it’s easy to see, but hard to describe. Maybe this also has to do with the chosen method, which Lassnig calls body awareness painting, or introspective painting. She swore off photographs and so when painting a figure, she paints what she feels, not what she sees. As if through paintings she goes from the inside, up to the surface. Sometimes this approach leads to drastic abbreviation, which in the past led Lassnig’s critics to proclaim her as simply grotesque, nothing more. The grotesque, though, is not the goal, it is simply the byproduct of how we, the viewers, perceive bodily deformations. This illustrates the fact that the artist follows her instincts, even though the result may sometimes be unpleasantly schematic. Reduction is a principle, which can bring significant profit, as in the latest paintings, where Lassnig abandoned backgrounds and left naked bodies on naked, simply white canvases. Her pictures always have a narrative. By throwing the protagonist into an empty space these stories acquire wider validity.
If the whole body is a vessel of meaning, in Marie Lassnig’s paintings skin is a mask. The exhibit’s catalogue cites Willem de Kooning: “Flesh is the reason why oil painting was invented.” Bodies are like peels thrown onto the canvas. Old age means more skin, more skin means more possibilities. On Flower from 1987, a face is growing like a flat mask or a paper kite from a stem of two leaves on a tabular base which is rising against a dark background reminiscent of Odion Redon’s works. Plastic wrap appears on the paintings as a second skin, a metaphor of interrelation. A woman on her own, a man by himself in plastic, an old bride behind a screen, which forms an intimate space around her, protecting her and, at the same time, exposing her isolation. Plastic foil, same as drapery, highlights gravity, or the relentless work of the laws of physics. It doesn’t hide, but only separates, having a quality of sanitary material.
Lassnig studied painting in Nazi-controlled Austria, which meant that she became acquainted with the works of expressionists only after the war. She came to the topic of bodies through surrealism. “In Klagenfurt, where I lived, a lawyer wrote Surrealist poetry. That’s how Surrealism came to our small town.” It’s important for Lassnig, just as it is for surrealists, to distinguish between body-subject and body-object. It is between those two poles that themes such as fear, old age, addiction, illness and combat appear.
I can imagine that Lassnig as a professor had as high expectations of her students as she did of herself. She inexorably spoke of her abstract paintings from the 1950s as Dumpling Configurations (Knödelfiguration). In an interview with Jörg Heiser for Frieze 103/2006 she indicated that her current work is “genre” or “drastic” painting. Theoretically, these paintings could have appeared a few decades ago. Newspapers today are full of photographs of men flying in the air in bodily conflicts against a random green background. Lassnig gives her protagonists instead a white canvas for their interaction. Canvases painted with oil paints reveal experience with the media’s assessment of reality.
In the foyer of the gallery, you can view experimental films, which Lassnig created from the 70s to the 90s. They show metamorphosis of forms, relationships and the history of art. The artist, in amusing costumes, tells the story of her life. The films uncover her life experiences and reveal her long artistic past. As soon as we go into the gallery, though, the most striking thing is simply that there is nothing there besides these recently created works. The visitor passes through the gallery waiting for a return, relief, but instead has to face more and more paintings that hold him to the already mentioned themes. You are placed at the mercy of the author’s mercilessness toward herself. Then there is something like an awakening—aha, so what I see, that is it. The only other thing that will appear is empty space in front of the pictures, left behind by the author and model in one.








01.02.2008

Comments

There are currently no comments.

Add new comment

Recommended articles

Intoxicated by Media Déjà-vu / Notes on Oliver Pietsche"s Image Strategy Intoxicated by Media Déjà-vu / Notes on Oliver Pietsche"s Image Strategy
Goff & Rosenthal gallery, Berlin, November 18 - December 30, 2006 Society permanently renegotiates the definition of drugs and our relationship towards them. In his forty-five minute found-footage film The Conquest of Happiness, produced in 2005, Oliver Pietsch, a Berlin-based video artist, demonstrates which drugs society can accommodate, which it cannot, and how the story of the drugs can be…
Nick Land – An Experiment in Inhumanism Nick Land – An Experiment in Inhumanism
Nick Land was a British philosopher but is no longer, though he is not dead. The almost neurotic fervor with which he scratched at the scars of reality has seduced more than a few promising academics onto the path of art that offends in its originality. The texts that he has left behind are reliably revolting and boring, and impel us to castrate their categorization as “mere” literature.
Tunelling Culture II Tunelling Culture II
Acts, Misdemeanors and the Thoughts of the Persian King Medimon Acts, Misdemeanors and the Thoughts of the Persian King Medimon
There is nothing that has not already been done in culture, squeezed or pulled inside out, blown to dust. Classical culture today is made by scum. Those working in the fine arts who make paintings are called artists. Otherwise in the backwaters and marshlands the rest of the artists are lost in search of new and ever surprising methods. They must be earthbound, casual, political, managerial,…
ArtLeaks
27.07.2014 19:39
Where to go next?
out - archeology
S.d.Ch, Solitaires and Periphery Culture (a generation born around 1970)
S.d.Ch, Solitaires and Periphery Culture (a generation born around 1970)
Josef Jindrák
Who is S.d.Ch? A person of many interests, active in various fields—literature, theater—known for his comics and collages in the art field. A poet and playwright foremost. A loner by nature and determination, his work doesn’t meet the current trends. He always puts forth personal enunciation, although its inner structure can get very complicated. It’s pleasant that he is a normal person and a…
Read more...
out - poetry
THC Review and the Condemned Past
THC Review and the Condemned Past
Ivan Mečl
We are the fifth global party! Pítr Dragota and Viki Shock, Fragmenty geniality / Fragments of Charisma, May and June 1997. When Viki came to visit, it was only to show me some drawings and collages. It was only as an afterthought that he showed me the Czech samizdat publication from the late 1990s, THC Review. When he saw how it fascinated me, he panicked and insisted that THAT creation is…
Read more...
prize
To hen kai pán (Jindřich Chalupecký Prize Laureate 1998 Jiří Černický)
To hen kai pán (Jindřich Chalupecký Prize Laureate 1998 Jiří Černický)
Read more...
birthing pains
Who’s Afraid of Motherhood?
Who’s Afraid of Motherhood?
Zuzana Štefková
Expanding the definition of “mother” is also a space for reducing pressure and for potential liberation.1 Carol Stabile The year was 2003, and in the deep forests of Lapák in the Kladno area, a woman in the later phase of pregnancy stopped along the path. As part of the “Artists in the Woods” exhibit, passers-by could catch a glimpse of her round belly, which she exposed especially for them in…
Read more...
Books, video, editions and artworks that might interest you Go to e-shop
35.5 x 33.5 cm, Pen & Ink Drawing
More info...
669,60 EUR
From series of rare photographs never released before year 2012. Signed and numbered Edition. Photography on 1cm high white...
More info...
220 EUR
1995, 35 x 42.5 cm, Pen & Ink Drawing
More info...
669,60 EUR

Studio

Divus and its services

Studio Divus designs and develops your ideas for projects, presentations or entire PR packages using all sorts of visual means and media. We offer our clients complete solutions as well as all the individual steps along the way. In our work we bring together the most up-to-date and classic technologies, enabling us to produce a wide range of products. But we do more than just prints and digital projects, ad materials, posters, catalogues, books, the production of screen and space presentations in interiors or exteriors, digital work and image publication on the internet; we also produce digital films—including the editing, sound and 3-D effects—and we use this technology for web pages and for company presentations. We specialize in ...
 

Citation of the day. Publisher is not liable for any mental and physical states which may arise after reading the quote.

Enlightenment is always late.
CONTACTS AND VISITOR INFORMATION The entire editorial staff contacts

DIVUS LONDON 
Arch 8, Resolution Way, Deptford
London SE8 4NT, United Kingdom

Open Wednesday to Saturday 12 - 6 pm

 

Office: +44 (0) 20 8692 5157
 

Ivan Mečl
ivan@divus.org.uk, +44 (0) 7526 902 082

 

Shop
shop@divus.org.uk, +44 (0) 20 8692 5157

DIVUS PERLA
Former papermill area, Nádražní 101
252 46 Vrané nad Vltavou, Czech Republic
ivan@divus.cz, +420 602 269 888

Open from Wednesday to Sunday between 11am to 6pm. From 15.12. to 15.1. only on appointment.

 

DIVUS BERLIN
at ZWITSCHERMASCHINE
Potsdamer Str. 161, 10783 Berlin, Germany

berlin@divus.cz, +49 (0) 1512 9088 150
Open Wednesday to Saturday 2 - 7 pm

 

DIVUS WIEN
wien@divus.cz
DIVUS MEXICO CITY
mexico@divus.cz
DIVUS BARCELONA
barcelona@divus.cz
DIVUS MOSCOW & MINSK
alena@divus.cz

DIVUS NEWSLETTER SUBSCRIPTION
Divus New book by I.M.Jirous in English at our online bookshop.