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Rita Ackermann, 'Hidden' at MASI Lugano, Switzerland

The action of painting, the abstract element, adolescent female figures in self-destructive gestures, a dialogue between love and violence, all of which is presented in "Hidden", one of the biggest retrospectives devoted to the work of Rita Ackermann.

By Alessandro Arensberg

Museo d'arte della Svizzera italiana, from 12 March to 13 August 2023. Ackermann’s recent solo exhibitions in Switzerland include: ‘Brother Sister,’ Hauser & Wirth Zurich, (2019), ‘Chalkboard Paintings,’ Hauser & Wirth Zürich, (2015); as well as the artist's new 'Mama' series at Hauser & Wirth Zurich in 2020 that was followed by her fist exhibition in Monaco, at Hauser & Wirth Monaco.

Rita Ackermann. Sketchbook Drawing 3. 1993. Ink marker on paper. © Rita Ackermann. Courtesy of the artist and Hauser & Wirth. Photo Thomas Barratt.

The MASI Lugano’s show traces the last thirty years of the Hungarian born artist’s practice, giving a particular space to the 1990s' production. As a foreign artist in New York City, Ackermann had the brilliant idea of not discarding her own cultural heritage and the artistic Hungarian avant-garde environment in which she had grown up, to follow American pop culture, but she merged them into an internationally recognizable personal style

Rita Ackermann. Where did we come from? Where are we going? Who are we? 1994. Acrylic on denim. © Rita Ackermann. Courtesy of the artist and Hauser & Wirth. Photo Thomas Barratt.

The viewer is faced with a teenage girl’s life and her troubles, violence, desires and pressures—in many cases hidden from the family and society, interiorized and expressed by the artist with messages such as: "all my fear seems so real", the birth of tragedy," and "where are we coming from? where are we going? who are we?" (from 1994, see above).

Installation view “Rita Ackermann. Hidden” at MASI Lugano, Switzerland. Photo © MASILugano, all photography by Alfio Tommasini.

Rita Ackermann landed in New York in 1992 and, after only two years, had a personal one-woman show at the groundbreaking Andrea Rosen gallery. Meanwhile, Marcia Tucker, director of the New Museum, had dropped by and decided to commission Ackermann to make the three large windows on the facade oh her institution at 483 Broadway. The result is three faux-stained-glass windows, featuring scenes of teenagers trying to make a go of their lives in a digitalized world. The final sketch is on view in Lugano; it represents the crowning achievement of Ackermann’s figurative art, made of nude adolescents drawn with sinuous black lines against plain backdrops, sometimes violated by red brushstrokes and texts that highlight the scene.

Ackermann's images are the result of automatic movements, a subconscious unfolding on the painting, and are an heir to the gestural abstractions of such American masters as Willem de Kooning and Cy Twombly. Her work examines connections between figuration and abstraction as well as between inner personal and group experience.

In 1999, Ackermann left New York, founded a band and gave birth to a daughter. Over the following years, she continued to paint, and experiment with mediums such as collages and videos, to return in 2018 with the prolific series "Mama," in which Ackermann focused on the gesture and transformation under an abstract call. "Mama" saw the use of the line to create a fabric of form that seems to both emerge out of and dive back into a mix of vibrant colors. The bodies are now vanished, merged in the gestural elements, swinging between figuration and abstraction.

In Lugano are shown, to conclude the exhibition, three large-scale paintings from a new series, "War Drawings". Each scene is dominated by a disaster, which comes across as a potential purifying force, paving the way for future harmony. The figures dissolve and the lines are scraped away in a nonstop climax of perpetual movement to the hidden.

I would like to end with a quote from Rita Ackermann that further explains her vision: "Things can be freer and reach higher when they conceal themselves. Figures that are hidden in the webs of overlaid images can disappear into abstraction. I abandoned an imagery that had been mistaken for self-expression in order to withhold my trajectory from the attempts of categorical disclosures, to stay hidden and free as a painter."

- Alessandro Arensberg

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