Maria Lassnig: Films, Friedrich Petzel Gallery

Previous retrospectives of Maria Lassnig’s work have focused on her paintings; however, this is only one connecting limb between the artist’s expressionistic flip-floppery between serious and grotesque portrayals of the human body.  Simply put, she makes art about the body, but hers is a body that eats, caresses, and ages into experience.  In her works, the body as a way to see the world. Friedrich Petzel Gallery has presented exhibitions of Petzel’s work on numerous occasions, but this was the first devoted solely to Lassnig’s films.

The 11 films shown in this exhibition span from the 1970s through the 1990s. Kantate (1991) shows the artist in a variety of costumes as she ages from a schoolchild to her current elderly—yet vitalized—state.  One moment, she’s an androgynous culottes-wearing child and then by the 1970s, she’s been changed into a leather-and-black-lipstick wearing punk rocker. Lassnig is the only “live” element to her videos; the backdrop, consisting of the various landscapes of her youth, float across the screen as she ages in energetic, bright colors and frantic lines. She sings a slow, rhythmic song about the repetitions of her life and how everything is the same with her long leben.  The hilarious, one-thing-after another events of her life deal with love and loss, but all throughout the changes, she stays the same—it’s her surroundings and costumes that change.

This combination looks a dated—like how many music videos in the 1980s combined live-footage with animation (Take On Me by Aha)—but only in terms of the sleek commodification of video. The LCD Soundsystem song Losing My Edge appropriately sums up Lassnig’s defensive, yet confident stance: “To all the kids in Tokyo and Berlin/I’m losing my edge to the art-school Brooklynites in little jackets and borrowed nostalgia for the unremembered eighties.”

Born in 1919, Lassnig’s ability to seem current is remarkable; or maybe it’s the other way around, if younger generations of artists find some sort of authenticity in the same type of whimsical and expressionistic editing effects that she had been working with all along.  Watching Lassnig’s films I was reminded of Shana Moulton, Kalup Linzy, and Ryan Trecartin, her younger contemporaries who also deal with issues of performing the role of another in order to escape the pain of an imperfect body.


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