Maria Lassnig. Me, Encircled by a Fly

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‘I have absolutely no obligation to express myself in words if I can do it better with a pencil’ - Maria Lassnig

The work of Maria Lassnig, one of the most significant painters of the contemporary era, is marked by its unrelenting probing into themes of the body and its meaning. This online exhibition is a special selection of the artist’s works on paper and canvases between 1987 and 2005. It explores this preoccupation with the physical presence of the body – a concept the artist coined as ‘body awareness’. Taking its title from an eponymous self-portrait painted in the 1990s, this presentation considers myriad interpretations of the physical that Lassnig depicted throughout her oeuvre.

Maria Lassnig, studio Feistritz, Metnitztal valley, Austria, July 1991. Maria Lassnig Foundation Archive © Maria Lassnig Foundation. Courtesy the Foundation and Hauser & Wirth

Despite being known for her large format oil on canvas works, the medium of watercolor was a continuum in Lassnig’s career. Pencils, chalk, and watercolors were the artist’s constant companions that allowed her to directly grapple with psychological turmoil and the infinite possibilities of the body, whether in singular or multiple iterations. Lassnig presents herself as an abstracted figure surrounded by a buzzing insect in ‘Ich von einer Fliege umkreist (Me, Encircled by a Fly)’. Here the human form takes on the weight of Lassnig’s subconscious in an ironic and humourful twist.

Maria Lassnig
Motorrad im Wald / Motorradfahrer (Motorcycle in the Forest / Motorcyclist), 1987
Oil on canvas
205 x 140 x 2.3 cm / 80 3/4 x 55 1/8 x 7/8 in
© Maria Lassnig Foundation. Courtesy the Foundation and Hauser & Wirth

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One of the earliest paintings on view takes the body and the machine as its subject matter. ‘Motorrad im Wald / Motorradfahrer (Motorcycle in the Forest / Motorcyclist)’ (1987), depicts Lassnig, almost 70 years old at the time of painting, traveling through an Austrian mountain-top on her motorbike. This unification of the body and the motorbike fascinated Lassnig: ‘Motorcycling fosters my self-confidence because I have to overcome a threshold of fear, also because it’s new and makes you feel as if you’re swooshing ahead under your own power – and yet still close to the meadows and trees.’

Maria Lassnig
Tuet Einkehr in der Wüste (Withdrawal in the Desert), 1980
Pencil, watercolour on paper
42 x 59.8 cm / 16 1/2 x 23 1/2 in
© Maria Lassnig Foundation. Courtesy the Foundation and Hauser & Wirth. Photo: Jon Etter

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Maria Lassnig
Januskopf / Tag- und Nachtgedanken (Janus Head /Daytime and Nighttime Thoughts), 1987
Oil on canvas
114.5 x 100.5 x 2.5 cm / 45 1/8 x 39 5/8 x 1 in
© Maria Lassnig Foundation. Courtesy the Foundation and Hauser & Wirth. Photo: Roland Krauss

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‘I searched for reality that was more fully in my possession than the exterior world...I found it waiting for me in the body house in which I dwell, realest and clearest reality’ - Maria Lassnig

The presentation coincides with the new publication ‘Maria Lassnig. Letters to Hans Ulrich Obrist. Living with art stops one wilting!’ by Verlag der Buchhandlung Walther König. Obrist states in the preface of the book: ‘[Lassnig] sees transcendence as beginning with the body. It is based on the relationship between the body and the image, and is translated into what she calls ‘body awareness’ paintings and drawings… physical manifestations of a steady resistance to the repetitive and the static.’ Hauser & Wirth has collaborated with Obrist on a series of new interviews and readings of the artist’s letters to celebrate its release, including an interview with curator Kimberly Drew.

Maria Lassnig
Hellgrünes Selbst / Bedrücktes Selbst /Malflussselbstportrait (Light-Green Self / Sad Self /Self - Portrait in Paint Flow), 1996
Oil on canvas
100.3 x 83 x 2 cm / 39 1/2 x 32 5/8 x 3/4 in
© Maria Lassnig Foundation. Courtesy the Foundation and Hauser & Wirth

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Maria Lassnig
Untitled, ca. 1990-1999
Pencil, watercolour, acrylic on paper
50 x 70 cm / 19 5/8 x 27 1/2 in
© Maria Lassnig Foundation. Courtesy the Foundation and Hauser & Wirth. Photo: Jon Etter

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Maria Lassnig
Untitled, 2005
Pencil, watercolour, acrylic on paper
49.8 x 69.7 cm / 19 5/8 x 27 1/2 in
© Maria Lassnig Foundation. Courtesy the Foundation and Hauser & Wirth. Photo: Jon Etter

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About the artist

Born in Carinthia in Southern Austria in 1919, Maria Lassnig’s work is based on the observation of the physical presence of the body and what she termed ‘body awareness painting’. She devoted much of her oeuvre to recording her physiological states through a direct and unflinching style, believing that ‘truth resides in the emotions produced within the physical shell’. Utilizing contrasting colors such as greens, pinks and blues, as well as strong body shapes to give her paintings a powerful, even drastic impact, Lassnig looked to herself, a female artist in a predominantly male world, as her primary subject.

The exhibition is presented in close collaboration with Peter Pakesch, Director of the Maria Lassnig Foundation, who explains: ‘From the outset of her career, Maria Lassnig explored physical sensations and the possibilities of perception of her own body as paradigms for artistic expression. She saw everything through this relationship between the body as the primary medium: the medium of perception, as well as the medium of action. It is a body that suffers, acts, represents, presents, forms and distorts itself, and perceives… The body dissolves, metamorphosing into mythology or machines, and reassembles itself in constantly new ways.’

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