Famed artist, "body awareness" theorist, and Austria's "Grand Dame of painting" Maria Lassnig passed away earlier this week in Vienna at the age of 94.
Lassnig, born in Austria in 1919, attended the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna during World War II and is known for her brushy paint strokes and brutal subject matter. Lassnig used painting to explore the human body and psyche, illustrating a critical and sometimes gruesome subjectivity. She herself was often the object of her critical eye. Her latest solo exhibition currently at MoMA PS1, reviewed earlier this year by our Charlie Schultz, features a number of her stunning, and often disconcerting, self-portraits. One, titled You or Me, depicts Lassnig fully nude, legs spread wide, face agape, and a gun in each of her hands, one held to her temple and the other held straight out in front, pointing directly at the viewer.
Maria Lassnig, You or Me, 2002, oil on canvas; Courtesy of the artist & MoMA PS1
In the 50s, Lassnig began working with artists like Arnulf Rainer and Ernst Fuchs, who were equally inspired by Abstract Expressionism. She travelled to Paris and eventually on to New York. Though not immediately well received, she stayed through the 60s and 70s, continuing to paint and producing a number of short films. In 2008, she said to Frieze of her arrival in New York: “They wouldn’t even show my work, said it was trash. And my upstairs neighbour in the loft said to me: you just can’t paint."
Later she would be able to boast exhibitions in a number of the world's most important institutions. She represented Austria at the Venice Biennale in 1980 and was awarded numerous recognitions including the Austrian Decoration for Science and Art in 2005 and the Grand Austrian State Prize in 1988, the first female artist to be awarded that honor.