We see the romantic in a whimsical white dress, the intellectual in a pair of thick-rimmed glasses and the coquette half-unseen behind a fan. Through role-play Bertlmann explodes the rigours of gendered identity.
Foreshadowing both Cindy Sherman’s renowned 1970s Film Still series and our current obsession with selfies, the black and white photographs in Transformations, 1969, set the tone for the suite of S2’s exhibition of work by Bertlmann and Maria Lassnig.
Renate Bertlmann, Detail: Transformations, 1969, © Renate Bertlman
A prominent figure of the European feminist movement of the 1970s, Bertlmann’s multi-disciplinary oeuvre shocks, engages, angers and mocks. Her direct socio-political approach and overtly sexualised portfolio received criticism from her contemporaries during the Seventies. Her work was often misconstrued as disgusting and repellent – she was relegated to the back bench.
Fellow Austrian self-portraitist Maria Lassnig was in the same boat. She was only just emerging from art-world obscurity when she died two years ago, at the age of 94. Her startling works, though, are some of the most original of the 20th century. Lassnig paints bodies, vulnerable and savagely observed: bluish pink, bruised reds, abbreviated writhing figures. An exhibition of the work of this remarkable artist was showcased at Hauser & Wirth in early 2017. But thankfully things are now changing.
The solo-exhibitions at the S2 – Bertlmann upstairs and Lassnig downstairs – re-examine these artists in a refreshing new light. The exhibitions are distinctive yet cohesive. Both collapse hierarchies and both question social preconceptions, but remain very different bodies of work.
Renate Bertlmann, Detail: Cactus, 1999, © Renate Bertlmann
Bertlmann’s works, predominantly taken from her output from the Seventies, are frank in their sexual explicitness. Whichever way you turn, you come face to face with the erotic. Pink dildos sprout from a cactus in the first room, latex-clad phalluses splash the walls of the fuchsia-painted second gallery, and inflated condoms populate her drawings dotted around S2’s exhibition space.
While Bertlmann has been criticised for being ‘phallus-obsessed’, this collection of works positions the man as the object of sexual denudation. In these works the male body is stripped bare, patriarchal oppressions appear to collapse.
Maria Lassnig, Detail: Le Jeu du Destin, 1999, © Maria Lassnig Foundation
Lassnig, on the other hand, broaches hierarchies of a different sort – that between the projected self and the inner self. Celebrated for depicting her physical and emotional feelings at the time of painting, Lassnig’s ‘body-awareness’ self-portraits are bold and unfiltered. Self Portrait with Hare, 2003, is refreshingly honest. With her protruding jaw and closely-set eyes dominating the composition, Lassnig has made no attempt to sugar-coat reality.
In their inaugural exhibition of the new female-centric S2 program, gallery directors-cum-curators Darren Leak and Bianca Chu have given these two the long overdue recognition they deserve. In the light of recent discussions on female post-war artists, this is an engaging and compelling exhibition for your to-do list.
|What||Review: Renate Bertlmann and Maria Lassnig at Sotheby's S2|
|Where||S2 gallery, 31 St George Street, London, W1S 2FJ | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Green Park (underground)|
27 Apr 17 – 01 Jun 17, Open: Monday - Friday 10am - 6pm
|Website||Click here for more information|