Critics’ Picks

Maria Lassnig, Kitchen Bride, 1988, oil on canvas, 49 x 39".

Maria Lassnig, Kitchen Bride, 1988, oil on canvas, 49 x 39".


Maria Lassnig

Tate Liverpool
Albert Dock
May 18–September 18, 2016

The late painter Maria Lassnig’s rigorous, febrile, decades-long project in self-portraiture takes the viewer on a remarkable journey. In this retrospective—Lassnig’s first in the UK—we encounter forty of the artist’s mostly large-scale works, along with several of her irresistibly beautiful and witty animations. One of these, a 35-mm film titled The Ballad of Maria Lassnig (Maria Lassnig Kantate), 1992, features the artist, glamorously dressed, singing about the vicissitudes of her life and career. It is very much in the spirit of her paintings—humorous, ironic, yet unflinchingly honest. At certain points it goes from a kind of hyperrealism to full-on science fiction.

Perhaps the most striking pieces in the show are those in the section labeled “Kitchen/War” (which borrows its title from a 1991 Lassnig painting). This grouping of pictures addresses the experience of war through television, from the titular domestic space, or from a chair into which she sank regularly while being pummeled by the news. (Lassnig once remarked that the only time she relinquished her commitment to the rendering of her interior life was when the events of the external world were more powerful than she.) She also depicts herself merged with things in this area, as if she’s trying to expand some aspect of her sentience. With Kitchen Bride, 1988, she’s a fleshy, mutant cheese grater; while in Armchair Self-Portrait I, 1963, she’s become one with her sitting-room furniture. The object-body fusion, however, gently comes undone in Untitled, 2005. Here, Lassnig’s on crutches: One supports her back; the other, her legs. With her eyes shut she looks vulnerable, and totally at peace.