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Stedelijk Museum presents first survey of Maria Lassnig in the Netherlands

AMSTERDAM – The retrospective Maria Lassnig – Ways of Being is on view in the Stedelijk Museum from April 6 through August 11, 2019. The Austrian artist Maria Lassnig (1919–2014) is internationally regarded as one of the leading artists of the 20th century. She made her name with her ‘Körperbewusstseintbilder,’ or ‘body awareness’ paintings, in which she depicts the sensations experienced by her body, by means of which she defined her relationship to the world.

Maria Lassnig, Dame mit Hirn, 1990, Maria Lassnig Stiftung

When writing about this, she observed: “I searched for a reality that was more fully in my possession than the exterior world, and I found it waiting for me in the body house in which I dwell, the realest and clearest reality.” In addition to her paintings and drawings, the survey is remarkable for presenting a large selection of her films and sculptures, including works that have never been shown before. Maria Lassnig – Ways of Being features more than 200 loaned artworks, with key pieces such as Du oder Ich, Woman Power, Krankenhaus, Dame mit Hirn and her last self-portrait Selbstporträt mit Pinsel.

The exhibition is curated in collaboration with the Albertina Museum in Vienna in honor of the artist’s hundredth birthday, and can be seen there from September 6 to December 1, 2019.

Curator Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam Beatrice von Bormann: “Maria Lassnig was an incredibly inventive and imaginative artist who was often ahead of her time, and whose work retained its topicality, largely because she continued to address all the themes that she explores in her work, from her own physical experience. With that they are bound to her person, but not to a specific time. Also extraordinary is the irony with which she approached even the most challenging themes, making them bearable.”

After completing her training at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna, from 1950 onwards, Maria Lassnig focused on abstract art. Several visits to Paris inspired her to experiment with color, form and informal painting. In Vienna she came into contact with Monseigneur Otto Mauer, a resolute supporter of the Austrian avant-garde. She joined the “Hundsgruppe” (“Dog Pack”), an off-shoot of the artists’ organization Art Club, with members such as Arik Brauer, Ernst Fuchs and Arnulf Rainer.

From 1960 to 1968, Lassnig lived and worked in Paris. After initially concentrating on “Strichbilder” —large paintings with shapes that consisted entirely of colored lines—she went on to embrace a more figurative style. In 1968 she moved to New York, where her “body awareness painting” went largely unrecognized. She responded by pouring her energies into a realistic form of painting, and animated film. She released eight animated films. Lassnig’s legacy includes a great many other films and film fragments, a selection of which can be seen in the exhibition, as well as a number of her notebooks which include storyboards for the films. In 1974 she founded the feminist avant-garde group Women/Artist/Filmmakers, Inc. with other female (film) artists, including Martha Edelheit, Carolee Schneemann and Silvianna Goldsmith. Throughout this time, she exhibited her paintings and graphic work mainly in Vienna.

Although the style of Lassnig’s work constantly shifted, her themes remained the same. While immersing herself in her central theme of ‘body consciousness’, she also explored themes such as family, death, and urgent social issues ranging from the role of women in society, political conflicts, to technological progress and communication between humans and animals. She embellished nothing, and her works are often rich in (self) irony, which is also clear from many of her titles, like Selbstporträt als Playboystuhl and Die neuronal Verschwendung.

Maria Lassnig, Selbst mit Meerschweinchen, 2000. Private collection. Courtesy Hauser & Wirth Collection Services

The statement Lassnig made in 1992 about her approach to drawing most likely applies to all her art: “The moral issue of exaggeration: one step too far and it becomes bizarre; not something I aspire to. The moral issue of time: how much time do I give an artwork? Every drawing is a triumph over the restlessness of the world.”

In 1980, when she was appointed the first female professor of the Academy for Applied Arts in Vienna, Lassnig’s work garnered far greater recognition. That year she was awarded the Austrian State Prize. In 2013, Lassnig was the recipient of the Venice Biennale’s Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement. In the meantime, she is internationally regarded as one of the most important artists of the 20th century.

The exhibition is accompanied by an extensive catalog: Maria Lassnig – Ways of Being. This richly illustrated publication includes essays by Wolfgang Drechsler, Stefanie Proksch-Weilguni, curators Beatrice von Bormann and Antonia Hoerschelmann, and a biography by Johanna Ortner of the Maria Lassnig Stiftung. The catalog (208 pages) is published by Hirmer Verlag and appears in English, German and Dutch. Retail price English / Dutch edition: € 29,50 (paperback).

The exhibition Maria Lassnig – Ways of Being is supported by the Prins Bernhard Cultuurfonds and the International Collector Circle and Curator Circle of the Stedelijk Museum Fonds. The exhibition is organized by the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam in collaboration with The Albertina Museum, Vienna.

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