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Moi, non-moi. Exhibition view. Gallery Vartai. Photo: Ramūnas Danisevičius

Gallery Vartai: Moi, non-moi 0

The exhibition Moi, non-moi, featuring the works of three notable female artists of the 20th century – Louise Bourgeois, Maria Lassnig, and Maria Helena Vieira da Silva – has opened at Gallery Vartai in Vilnius.

Sculptor Louise Bourgeois (1911-2010) was born in Paris, and the traumatic events of her childhood would become a philosophical touchstone in her art. Bourgeois spent the greater part of her life in New York, but unfortunately, recognition from the art world came only very late in her life, when she was already in her seventies. Bourgeois’s work appears in collections worldwide and she has represented the United States at the Venice Biennale, won a National Medal of Arts (1997), a Golden Lion at the Venice Biennale (1999), and a National Order of the Legion of Honour (2008), among many other awards.

Exhibition view of Louise Bourgeois. © The Easton FoundationVAGA, New York. Photo: Arnas Anskaitis

Painter Maria Lassnig (1919-2014) was born into a rather impoverished family in Austria. Lassnig’s work is best characterised by the term ‘body awareness’, which she coined herself, and which she readily expressed with detailed studies of her own physical and mental states. Recognition came late in life for her, too – in her sixties. She had moved from New York back to Vienna, where she taught at the Vienna University of Applied Arts. Lassnig held solo shows in such venues as MOMA PS1, the Centre Pompidou, the Stedeljik Museum, and many other museums and galleries. The resonance of Lassnig’s work was also reflected in her being awarded the international Roswitha Haftmann Prize in 2002, and the Austrian Decoration for Science and Art in 2005. Receiving the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement at the Venice Biennale in 2013 ended up being the culmination of her career.

Drawing by Maria Helena Vieira da Silva © Fundação Arpad Szenes - Vieira da Silva. Photo: Ramūnas Danisevičius

One could say that the life of the vibrant Portuguese painter Maria Helena Vieira da Silva (1908-1992) was the most harmonious of the three. In contrast to the other two featured artists, Vieira da Silva grew up in a well-to-do family in Lisbon, and beginning at age eleven, drawing and painting became the centre of her world. Vieira da Silva was the first woman to receive the French government's Grand Prix National des Arts (1966), and she was also named a Chevalier of the Legion of Honour (1979). Despite their markedly different upbringings and life stories, what unifies these three artists – Louise Bourgeois, Maria Lassnig and Maria Helena Vieira da Silva – is their courageous choice to be artists in the early 20th century. It is altogether possible that compared to today, back then such a career choice was even less likely to lead to a life of prosperity and ease.

Amer Abbas, curator of the exhibition Moi, non-moi. Photo: Ramūnas Danisevičius

This is the first time that works by these three artists – in this case, drawings – are being exhibited in the Baltics. Amer Abbas, the curator of the show, stresses that for all three artists, drawing was not simply an intermediary step in the creative process, but a full-fledged form of expression in itself. ‘Their artistic attitudes, however different they may be, have a texture in their drawing that can be judged as a consequence of independent intuition. Their “aesthetics” are more an expression of personal will than a formal adaptation. In relation to the medium of drawing, a new aspect is important here: to leave the didactic legacy of the medium as a “study”, and to make radical use of it’s marginality at this point.’

Mark Setteducati, magician, assistant to Louise Bourgeois from 1975 until 1980. Photo: Ramūnas Danisevičius

‘I never asked her personal questions; I simply did what she asked me to,’ revealed magician Mark Setteducati, Louise Bourgeois’ assistant (from 1975 to 1980), at the public talk held at the CAC Reading Room on June 5. Having taken place just an hour before the opening of the Moi, non-moi exhibition at Gallery Vartai, this presentation was more than just a lecture before the exhibition – it was also an emotional sharing of memories. Additional speakers included Hans Werner Poschauko – Maria Lassnig’s former student and close friend, and Joana Margarida Gregório Baião – the author of a monograph on Maria Helena Vieira da Silva.

Hans Werner Poschauko, long-serving assistant to 
Maria Lassnig. Photo: Ramūnas Danisevičius

The show is titled Moi, non-moi – a term coined by the French-Lithuanian philosopher Emmanuel Levinas, who used it to describe the human condition of being oneself and, at the same time, having an ‘otherness’ as well. The drawings create a place for a performative ‘non-moi’ in which an ‘artistic I’ and a ‘just I’ meet. The possibility to draw anywhere and at any time allowed drawings to function as a diary reflecting one’s artistic ambition and vision as well as personal and intimate experiences.

Amer Abbas, Hans Werner Poschauko, Joana Margarida Gregório Baião, Mark Setteducati. Photo: Ramūnas Danisevičius

Exhibition view of Louise Bourgeois. © The Easton FoundationVAGA, New York. Photo: Arnas Anskaitis

Photo: Ramūnas Danisevičius

Photo: Ramūnas Danisevičius

Photo: Ramūnas Danisevičius