Icons of Austrian Art Arrive in London

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Launch Slideshow

S|2 Gallery is pleased to announce the start of a new program at the gallery with two solo presentations: the upper gallery will feature works by Austrian artist Renate Bertlmann; in the lower gallery, a presentation of paintings by fellow Austrian Maria Lassnig. As the inaugural exhibition of the new S|2 programme, both Bertlmann and Lassnig should be seen as key figures in the current discussions around the re-evaluation of female artists of the post-war period. The exhibition will feature performance, photography, painting and sculpture by the two artists from 1969 onwards. Click through to see highlights from the exhibition.

Renate Bertlmann – Maria Lassnig
27 April – 1 June 2017 | London

Icons of Austrian Art Arrive in London

  • Renate Bertlmann, Verwandlungen (Transformations), 1969.
    The artist's desire for self-determination and liberation within feminist avant-garde practice demanded the use of her own body. In Verwandlungen (Transformations), 1969, the body becomes Renate Bertlmann's artistic material. She creates a visual representation of her transformations and explores her feminine identity in varying forms. She experiments with role-play in these self-portraits, ranging from the flower girl to the vamp with changing clothes, hairstyles and facial expressions. This work pre-dates Cindy Sherman's film stills from the late 1970s that explore female identity and gender representation through self-portraiture. 

  • Renate Bertlmann, Schnuller-Maske (Pacifier-Mask), 1976.
    Renate Bertlmann's Schnuller-Maske (Pacifier-Mask), 1976 is an iconic piece that the artist has used across the majority of her performances including Tender Pantomimes. Pantomime Pacifier-Dance, 1976; The Pregnant Bride in the Wheelchair, 1978 and Let's Dance Together, 1979. The mask's construction with glitter, acrylic and latex pacifier elements displays the paradoxes and polarities connected with our inner and outer worlds. In wearing her mask, Bertlmann provocatively explores the construction of identity and the very nature of representation. She captures herself in a range of guises and personas which are at turns amusing and disturbing, distasteful and affecting.

  • Renate Bertlmann, Ambivalenzen (Ambivalence), 1976.
    Renate Bertlmann's eight black-and-white photographs entitled Ambivalenzen (Ambivalences), 1976 depict a repeated assortment of latex objects that can signify pacifiers, nipples, condoms or breasts. It is these contained contradictory or opposed signs and meanings that demonstrate how processes of symbolization are created for the artist and viewer. Bertlmann calls attention to the prehistoric notions of a single sex. Her visual representation in Ambivalenzen (Ambivalences), 1976 creates no division of male or female gender and the breast and phalluses are intermingled. 

  • Renate Bertlmann, Exhibitionismus (Exhibitionism), 1972.
    In Exhibitionismus (Exhibitionism), 1972, curved abstract forms and soft pale pink and yellow colours evoke the contours of a feminine body. In reference to female and male corporeality, the drawing’s two egg-shaped protruding objects directly allude to male genitals. As the title suggests, the viewer is presented with an act of exhibitionism. The work displays the interrelationship between the masculine and the feminine and Bertlmann deftly renders the interchangeability of sexes and sexual desires. Another example from this series by the artist was acquired by the Tate Collection in 2014. The acquisition preceded the work's inclusion in the major retrospective exhibition The World Goes Pop at the Tate Modern, London in 2015. 

  • Renate Bertlmann, Rollstuhl (Rot-Gross) Wheelchair (Red-Big)), 1975.
    Rollstuhl (rot-groß) (Wheelchair (red-big)), 1975, is a full-size replica of a wheelchair made of shocking neon pink Perspex inspired by Thomas Bernhard's play Ein Fest für Boris (A Party for Boris), 1968. Renate Bertlmann references human limitation and the fragility of the psyche through her distinct rendering of the wheelchair object in shocking neon pink. Bernhard's darkly comic play engaged with themes of the absurd and Bertlmann's reference marks the beginning of her artistic experimentation with kitsch in the mid- to late 1970s. It was at this time that she began to use kitsch and humour as an instrument to engage with the appropriation, decontextualisation and subversion of existing objects. Speaking about Rollstuhl (rot-groß) (Wheelchair (red-big)), 1975, Bertlmann noted that: "If we have to lean down slightly to shake hands, we often have a feeling of a kind of embarrassed and helpless shame. Disability puzzles and shocks us".

  • Maria Lassnig, Unitled (Selbstportrait mit Hasen) (Selfportrait with Rabbit), 2003.
    Painted in 2003, Maria Lassnig's work Untitled (Selbstportrait mit Hasen)(Selfportrait with Rabbit) is dominated by vibrant and exuberant brushstrokes that emphasise the artist's immediate and expressive mode of painting. Her portrait shows a serious and somewhat alienated facial expression. She holds a rabbit to her chest in a warm embrace in contrast to the cool blue-green tones of the background. The artist's physical positioning in this work generates a sense of awareness of her internalised sensations or pressures. She visualises what she senses with her body and in doing so, she explores the nature and complexity of figurative representation. Speaking about this technique, Lassnig noted that: "Figuration comes about almost automatically, because in my art I start first and foremost with myself. I do not aim for the 'big emotions' when I'm working, but concentrate on small feelings: sensations in the skin or in the nerves, all of which one feels. I became interested in all this early on and tried to fix these sensations in straightforward brushstrokes, because in the body they are changing continuously".  (M. Lassnig, 1000 Words: Maria Lassnig talks about her exhibition at the Serpentine Gallery, London, Artforum, Summer 2008, p. 406).

  • Maria Lassnig, Le jeu du destin (The Game of Destiny), 1999.
    Le jeu du destin (The Game of Destiny) is a rich and complex example of Maria Lassnig's large format painterly work. The oil on canvas demonstrates the artist’s inimitable blend of figuration and abstraction. It also examines the relationship between the body and the subconscious in its dynamism. Lassnig describes her approach to making pictures as 'bodily consciousness', body awareness' or 'body sensation'. Lassnig potently manifests her central figure with thick, energized brushtrokes as its body emerges from the dark waves of the composition. The surreal and grotesque figure appears to be blind while its body struggles to stay afloat. The powerful and expressive depiction alludes to the Greek mythical god of Poseidon caught in the Game of Destiny.

  • Maria Lassnig, Don Juan D'Austria, 2001.
    In her large format oil painting Don Juan d'Austria, 2001, Maria Lassnig channels a raw and visceral energy into her canvas. She plays with the unstable and constantly shifting nature of boundaries and treats her image with a degree of humour. Her depiction of the two figures is performative and provocative. The viewer is presented with a naked subject whose masculinity is life-like, but is in no way romanticised. The painting is an example of Lassnig's 'body awareness painting' and features the same male protagonist as in The World Destroyer, 2003, and Bugbear, 2001. The three works were exhibited alongside each other at the artist's Serpentine Gallery retrospective in 2008 .

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