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Cheeky, Chubby Lolita Paintings Give a Feminine Facelift to Abstract Expressionism

Rita Ackermann takes on Franz Kline in her newest show for Hauser & Wirth.

Dark paint slicks with flowing, curvaceous bulbs in the color orange and are adorned with chubby, semi-nude Lolitas whose disembodied limbs are dispersed throughout. These paintings, with their visceral color palette, from freckled, peachy beige to bright sanguine red, bring the body to the forefront of Hungarian painter Rita Ackermann’s newest show for Hauser & Wirth, KLINE RAPE. The works present sensual tones alongside black structured black sloshes. They seem to ask, "Who says femininity isn’t aggressive?"

Ackermann’s work has always been surprising: even though she has a distinctive style, developed through her career in New York since the early 90s, she has continued to experiment, pushing herself into new pastures. Hauser & Wirth’s temporary annex at 548 West 22nd Street plays host to her continuing trajectory into different styles, with two new bodies of work: Stretcher Bar Paintings and KLINE RAPE, the second of which gives the show its title.

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Rita Ackermann, Kline Rape III 2016. Acrylic, oil on canvas 193 x 264.2 cm / 76 x 104 in Photo: Genevieve Hanson

Naming your show after another artist is always a big move. Naming it for a violent sexual act combined with the name of another artist is an even bigger one. American artist Franz Kline became known in the 50s for his abstract expressionist canvases, with their stark signposting licks. His works have informed some of the more masculine elements in this series. Ackermann’s signature little-girl imagery brings a more elemental touch to Kline’s work.

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Rita Ackermann  Stretcher Bar Painting 3 2015. Oil on canvas 195.6 x 111.8 cm / 77 x 44 in Photo: Genevieve Hanson

“I chose the title KLINE RAPE because it demands attention,” Ackermann tells The Creators Project. “KLINE RAPE has nothing to do with feminism. Generally my work has no involvement with exterior issues but is involved with its own problems and their fixings. In my work I'm completely involved with myself and my own possibilities even when I reflect on something from outside. What interests me is how to paint in a way that the painting moves through me. Almost like a medium makes the table dance.”

These alien-looking youths depicted in fine, delicate lines take over the heavy paint structures upon the canvas. Meanwhile, the paintings’ titles are peppered with allusions to nurses—those archetypal female caregivers—forcing the viewer to confront stereotypes associated with femininity.

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Installation view, 'Rita Ackermann. KLINE RAPE' Hauser & Wirth New York, 22nd Street Photo: Genevieve Hanson.

KLINE RAPE also showcases the series Stretcher Bar Paintings, which references the technical effect used by the painter that reveals the bars that sit behind the canvas to hold it straight. The painted canvas turns into a coin rubbing on paper, the frame laid bare. Instead of letting this be a defect of the work, the quadrilateral lines on the canvas give the painting its meaning. Washes of color are tripped up by the space it inhabits, the painter’s brush meeting a lip on its way across the canvas.

The works create something on the surface like an X-Ray of a painting. Despite their consistent size, the Stretcher Bar Paintings give the impression of being transparent, as if we’ve caught the painter in something indecent.

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Rita Ackermann  Stretcher Bar Painting 4 2015. Oil, pigment and spray paint on canvas 195.6 x 111.8 cm / 77 x 44 in Photo: Genevieve Hanson

Rita Ackermann, KLINE RAPE, is on show at Hauser & Wirth, 548 West 22nd Street through January 14, 2017.

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