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APPetizer – Maria Lassnig

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A small sample from our current exhibition Enjoy - the mumok Collection in Change.

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Maria Lassnig, Karyatide [Caryatid], 1974 (oil on canvas, 127 x 143 cm)

Austrian artist Maria Lassnig moved to New York in the late 1960s. In 1974 she rented a loft which she renovated herself, painting the whole thing white. During this period her pictures also became increasingly lighter and pastel-coloured.

Her late self-portraits in which she is often depicted as being under severe existential pressure have a precursor in these pale-coloured nudes of the 1970s that includes the “Karyatide” painting. In this work Lassnig depicts herself naked, in a squatting pose. Eyeless and with a serious expression her face is turned upwards. Her left arm reaches for the topmost edge of the picture, the upper arm is painted to draw attention to it and shows that the body is under visible stress as if it was labouring under an unseen weight. The title of the picture, “Caryatid” refers to the decorative architectural element of the same name. These female figures function as support that hold up heavy elements –– beams, balconies, cornices and portals –– with relaxed ease. As a caryatid, the artist carries a heavy but invisible burden. The slightly elongated rectangular format of the picture underlines the notion of distress. The cross-strut posture of her body gives the impression of pushing against the outer limits of the picture. In the blue contours on the arms and legs, the curves of the body merge with the background which in “Caryatid” serves as a bottomless container for her physical sensations. Right from the beginning Lassnig declared the central subject of her art to be her own body, and the depiction of which what she inhabits and observes from within and without, she gave the term ‘Body Awareness Painting’. She linked her momentary and remembered physical sensations with figurative image vocabulary and felt physically experienced colours. Maria Lassnig: “I draw or paint a picture in a specific body position: for example, sitting, supported on one arm, one feels the shoulder blade but only the upper part of the arm itself, the palm of the hand like the hand grips of a crutch.