Maria Lassnig, the grande dame of Austrian art, has died age 95. Lassnig was born in Carinthia in 1919 and worked mostly in Vienna. She was one of the most significant and innovative painters on the contemporary art scene. Since the early 1950s, her works have appeared in solo exhibitions, including at the Kunstmuseum in Düsseldorf (1985), the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam (1994), the Centre Pompidou in Paris (1995), the Kunsthaus in Zurich (2003) and at Hauser & Wirth in London (2004).
After studying at the Vienna Fine Arts Academy, she spent some time living in Paris and New York. From 1970 to 1972 she studied film animation at the New York School of Visual Arts. On returning to Vienna in 1980, she became the first woman professor of painting in the German-speaking countries, holding the chair in this discipline at Vienna University of Applied Arts. She participated in the Venice Biennale that same year. In 1982 and 1997 her work was displayed at the Documenta in Kassel.
Throughout a remarkable career that has spanned more than 70 years, she continued to create work that vulnerably explored the way she came into contact with the world, often placing particular emphasis upon the disjunctions between her own self-image and the way she was seen by others—as a woman, as a painter, and as a person living through the dramatic technological and cultural developments that have marked the century of her lifetime. Bravely exposing personal traumas, fantasies, and nightmares, Lassnig’s art offers instruction for courageous living in a time of increasingly spectacularized social interaction.
Lassnig’s œuvre embraced not only painting, but sculpture, animated film and major graphic output. She had long kept her drawings under lock and key, and only published them in 1997 in ‘Die Feder ist die Schwester des Pinsels’ The pen is the sister of the paintbrush, published by Hans Ulrich Obrist. Her life’s work has won her many accolades, including the Grand Austrian State Prize in 1988, the City of Zurich Roswitha Haftmann Prize, the Rubens Prize of the Town of Siegen, Germany, in 2002, the City of Frankfurt Max Beckmann Prize in 2004 and the Austrian Decoration for Science and Art in 2005.
A show currently running at MoMa Ps1 focuses on Lassnig’s self-portraiture, the exhibition presents works by the artist—most of them never previously exhibited in the U.S.—from all creative periods of her career, spanning her early involvement with graphic abstraction in Paris and Art Informel, to her later shift to figural representation. The show will be the most significant survey of her work ever presented in the United States, featuring approximately 50 paintings drawn from public and private collections and the artist herself, as well as a selection of watercolors and filmic works.