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Maria Lassnig, Grosse Flächenteilung / Spiegel (Large field-division / mirror), 1989, Oil on canvas
200 x 205 cm / 78 3/4 x 80 3/4 inches | © Maria Lassnig Foundation, Courtesy Hauser & Wirth
Maria Lassnig, Grosse Flächenteilung / Spiegel (Large field-division / mirror), 1989, Oil on canvas 200 x 205 cm / 78 3/4 x 80 3/4 inches | © Maria Lassnig Foundation, Courtesy Hauser & Wirth

Maria Lassnig Explores Gestalt In Hauser Wirth & Schimmel Retrospective

Picture of Marnie Sehayek
Updated: 24 September 2016
Last week, Hauser Wirth & Schimmel unveiled an impressive retrospective of the late Austrian painter Maria Lassnig entitled Maria Lassnig. A Painting Survey, 1950 – 2007. Spanning the artist’s early explorations of abstraction, followed by her move into evocative, broad-stroked figuration and self-portraiture and a seeming merger of these styles in her later years, the exhibition gives a comprehensive view of the evolution of Lassnig’s artistic vision.

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Maria Lassnig, Balken (Beams), 1950, Oil on canvas 825 x 74 cm / 324 3/4 x 29 1/8 inches | © Maria Lassnig Foundation, Courtesy Hauser & Wirth

The acclaimed artist is known for imaging physiological states, which she believed were the results of emotions – in her mind, the physical self is not merely a container. This gestalt philosophy permeates her work which seems to represent internal worlds as much as the external one. Thus, the viewing experience is pensive, as each canvas raps at the ‘physical shell’ of our beings, determined to tap viewers’ emotions and psychology.

In the first room of the exhibition, Lassnig’s early works from the 1950s prove to be initial curiosities with fields and forms. Pieces such as ‘Field-division black-grey 8’ and ‘Field-division black-white-grey 2’ represent the artist’s affinity to color-blocking, and several examples, including ‘Beams’ and ‘Violet Form,’ portray shapes that are untethered in space. Both the more environmental and figurative representations hold their own, but they also quite clearly seed the artist’s direction, as she goes on to merge these interests.

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Maria Lassnig, Schicksalslinien / Be-Ziehungen VIII (Lines of Fate / Re-lations VIII), 1994, Oil on canvas, 150 x 205 cm / 59 x 80 3/4 inches | © Maria Lassnig Foundation, Courtesy Hauser & Wirth

Examples of Lassnig’s work from the 1960s portray an expansion of her earlier ideas. Paintings such as ‘Interruption’ and ‘Large field-division / mirror’ offer stark, if arbitrary, horizon lines, framing a central, abstract figure. While ‘Self-portrait as animal’ and ‘Balancing myself’ present physical interpretations of the artist’s inner self, the work also expounds upon the figure-ground relationship, utilizing a purposefully unnatural color palette of bright, discordant hues. Heading into the 1970s, Lassnig’s work becomes more purely figurative with stunning self-portraits in a cool, reflective color scheme. These works conjure the coloration of Oskar Kokoschka and the expressionist figuration of Egon Schiele.

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Maria Lassnig, Dreifaches Selbtsporträt / New Self (Triple Self-Portrait / New Self), 1972, Oil on canvas, 173 x 230 cm / 68 1/8 x 90 1/2 inches | © Maria Lassnig Foundation, Courtesy Hauser & Wirth

Lassnig’s paintings from the late 1980s offer several more examples of figures in space. ‘Anchorite’ reaches skyward, like a crooked spire – its form a sort of distorted phallus rendered in a fleshy, swollen purple, a deep blood red and turquoise blue. ‘Interruption’ presents a compelling tension between foreground and background, distorting the viewer’s perception of perspective. The top half of a square outline is severed from its mate, colored in gray as if receding into the background. Meanwhile, its corresponding electric blue half sits in the fore, leaving the viewer to wonder, ‘Where, in space, am I?’

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Maria Lassnig, Frau und Mann (Woman and Man) 2007, Oil on canvas, 210 x 200 cm / 82 5/8 x 78 3/4 inches |© Maria Lassnig Foundation | Courtesy Hauser & Wirth

The final room of the exhibit presents a compelling series of caricatures. They are doodle-like in their irreverent forms, but deeply considered. ‘Language Mesh’ juxtaposes a scaffold, bearing nodes of connecting points over a Lassnig-esque figure, while ‘Lines of Fate / Re-lations VIII’ connects corpulent masses and abstract creatures to a transparent humanoid collage. Closing with ‘Woman and Man,’ the latest piece in the collection, the abstract, floating form changes with each view – at once it contains animal-like features, limbs, perhaps a snout and foot. It’s hard to say, but it is a piece that leaves you wondering. Like the rest of the show, it bears just enough resemblance to something you know to reel you in, but enough disjuncture to make the relation an uncomfortable one. It’s the dissonance that makes you stay.

Maria Lassnig. A Painting Survey, 1950 – 2007 will be on view at Hauser Wirth & Schimmel through December 31, 2016.

Hauser Wirth & Schimmel, 901 E 3rd St, Los Angeles, CA, USA, +1 213 943 1620