After 70 years of painting, Maria Lassnig is finally getting her first New York show and it is beautiful. Maria Lassnig's show recently opened at MOMA PS1 and it is an almost complete retrospective of one woman's work from 1942 to 2011. It is a pleasure to walk the gallery and see how her work changed and yet how it keeps a common line through her color choices and subject matter.
As you actually enter the museum you are greeted with Selbstportraet mit Sprechblase (Self-Portrait with Speech Bubble) 2006. It vibrates in tones of pink and bright green and invites visitors to think about what a self-portrait means. In this age of selfie culture, what does it mean when the subject has much more to say beyond what's visible on the outside?
When you walk into her gallery, you notice the bright lighting, white walls and white floors. Space is obliterated and you are forced to focus solely on her work. On the far wall as you enter the main gallery you see Du, Oder Ich? (You or Me) 2005. A painting of Maria holding a gun to her head in one hand and a gun pointed at the viewer in the other. It is clear that this woman has something to say.
Walk to the right and move through the gallery in a counter-clockwise direction to view her work chronologically. One of the first works you see is Selbstporträt (Self-Portrait) 1942. This was her first self-portrait done while she was still in school and reflects the time period with its Rembrandt style and color choices. Maria wasn't satisfied. Three years later and to the right you'll find Selbstporträt expressiv (Expressive Self-Portrait) 1945. It is only three years but a world of difference. You see the beginnings of what she would go on to explore throughout her seven-decade career. It is what she termed Body Awareness and she wanted to capture how she felt inside and not how she looked on the outside. The lines are quick and the paint is rough and in places incomplete (she wanted only to paint the parts of herself that she felt) you also begin to see the color choices she goes on to make throughout her career. The bright greens, pinks and reds and her focus begins to concentrate on the eyes.
The room features painting from the 1950s and early '60s that showcase her interest in forms and color and you can see influences by Ellsworth Kelly. Maria had left her native Austria for Paris around this time and begins to be heavily influenced by Abstract Expressionism from New York. In the next room you see work in which she placed large canvases on the floor and began to paint lines in boundless directions based on the way her body moved that day. She would go back and name them afterwards one of my favorites here is Napoleon und Brigitte Bardot 1961. She also begins to explore the inside of her body with two paintings titled Ohne Titel (Untitled) c. 1960.
The next room features work that begins to examine trauma, feminism and probably her frustration with the art world. Take a look at Selbstportrait unter Plastik 1972 and Dreifaches Selbstporträt / New Self 1970-72. It is around this time that she moved to New York and stays and paints for the next decade. Walk into the next room and you see a selection of her watercolors. Here the room is dimly lit to reinforce the fact that she would keep her eyes closed and paint from her minds eye in these quick studies. Again she was interested in the eyes as a tool and painting from the inside out. Check out Was mir beim Wort "Liebe" einfiel (What the word "love" made me think of) 1980.
The next room showcases her work in which she paints the body as mechanical with superhuman or alien abilities. She becomes interested in technology and science and the impact of television imagery. You can see that in Transparentes Selbstporträt, (Transparent Self Portrait) 1987, Kuechenbraut (Kitchen Bride) 1988 and Kleines Sciencefiction-Selbstporträt (Small Science Fiction Self Portrait) 1995.
The last room features paintings that explore her thoughts on her own mortality. It also features another one of my favorites and one of her most recent titled Vom Tode gezeichnet (Marked By Death) 2011. It shows the artist painting herself in death. The bright orange color feels in stark contrast to the subject matter.
The show makes you think about all that she has seen since she started painting in 1942 from technological advances to the rise of feminism. One of her lifetime goals was to have a show in New York. Now at 94 she has finally been given her chance and it is long overdue. Marie Lassnig now at MOMA PS1 through May 25.