Maria Lassnig Has Died at 94

The Austrian artist has a major show at MoMA PS1 right now.

Maria Lassnig. Photo: Sepp Dreissinger

The celebrated Austrian painter Maria Lassnig, currently the subject of a major exhibition at MoMA PS1 and the recipient of a Golden Lion for lifetime achievement at the 2013 Venice Biennale—where her work was included in Massimiliano Gioni’s “The Encyclopedic Palace”—died on May 6 at age 94.

“I was just at the studio two weeks ago specifically to tell her what an inspiration that show [at MoMA PS1] is to so many young artists,” Iwan Wirth of Hauser & Wirth, the gallery that represents Lassnig (along with Petzel Gallery), told artnet News over the phone from London. “And she told me: ‘You are exaggerating, as always.'”

Born in 1919 in southern Austria, Lassnig studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna during World War Two, but quickly broke with the school’s conventional formalism and embraced abstraction. She eventually returned to figuration, but developed a unique, whimsical, and revealing style of self-portraiture.

“While she has had a late career, like so many women artists, she had this extraordinary success with the Golden Lion and the show at PS1,” Wirth added. “While I’m very sad, it’s beautiful in a way that she was alive to witness this success.”


Maria Lassnig work from her MoMA PS1 exhibition.
Photo: Benjamin Sutton.

These typically feature the artist herself against a bright, monochrome backdrop. In some works she holds peculiar objects—guns, hamsters, skeletons, etc.—or portray her body as a kind of hybrid melded with mechanical objects. She remained active for more than 70 years, creating new paintings right up until her death.

“Even a couple of weeks ago, at 94, she was making more work,” Wirth said. “Not a lot, but some, and very good work. She was a strong believer in painting.”

Even prior to her Venice honor and PS1 exhibition, Lassnig has been accumulating accolades for decades. She represented Austria (with Valie Export) at the 1980 Venice Biennale and was the subject of a retrospective at the Centre Pompidou in 1996. She was also a two-time participant in Documenta, first in 1982 and then again in 1997.

“It wasn’t exactly surprising, because she hasn’t been well,” Wirth said. “It’s been a rollercoaster in terms of dealing with her health for the last two years, and especially these past few months.”


Maria Lassnig, You or Me (2008).
Photo: Benjamin Sutton.

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