Maria Lassnig at the Contemporary Arts Center

A show that originated at the Serpentine Gallery in London has come to Cincinnati, under the direction of Raphaela Platow, the newest head of the Contemporary Art Center. Beautifully installed, it is Maria Lassnig’s first in the USA, though she had a 1977 retrospective in Paris and has been the star of several Venice Biennales. Born in Vienna in 1919 and descending from the German Expressionist tradition, Lassnig often paints herself in ways that are both aggressively painful (with a gun aimed at her head in one hand and a gun aimed at the viewer in the other) and wryly comic (the artist with a frying pan on her head). The pictures are bold, visceral, and unrelenting. Lassnig has said she paints the body from the inside. Often her wildly colorful figures are grotesque—monstrous infants without arms or with distorted heads and mutilated torsos. Her recurrent theme is the complexity of feeling. The most recent pictures are lusciously painted and strangely lyrical. I especially loved Madonna of the Pastries, which shows the nude artist in front of an array of painterly (vaguely reminiscent of Wayne Thiebaud‘s) cakes.

Lassnig is a filmmaker as well as a painter. The one that was playing while I was at the gallery, Couples, is a visually delightful sequence that is playful in tone. In a wonderful filmed interview that is part of the show, Lassnig, who looks terrific, by the way, answers questions with wit and joy.

This is the work of a true artist; it is the best show that the CAC has
launched since it moved to Zaha Hadid‘s building, and I look forward to
more challenging shows that Platow will bring to a newly lustrous CAC.

Note: Accompanying the Lassnig show is Carlos Amorales‘s Discarded Spider, a vibrant and interesting exhibition and a particularly apt pairing, since his spiders recall Louise Bourgeois‘s. (The brilliant sculptor Bourgeois is 98 years old.) The Lassnig show will be up until January 11, 2009; the Amorales show will come down on March 7, 2009.


Photos: Tony Walsh. Top: Installation view at the Contemporary Arts Center in the Lois & Richard Rosenthal Center for Contemporary Art. Below: Madonna of the Pastries (2002, oil, 150x200cm) Courtesy of Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati and Friedrich Petzel Gallery, New York.

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