Martha Jungwirth’s New Exhibition ‘All Will Fall’ References Goya, Witchcraft…and Herself

All images: Installation view of Martha Jungwirth: All Will Fall at Thaddaeus Ropac, London, 31 May-30 July 2022. © Martha Jungwirth / Bildrecht, Wien 2022. Photo: Eva Herzog. Courtesy Thaddaeus Ropac gallery, London · Paris · Salzburg · Seoul.

When Martha Jungwirth was born in Vienna in January of 1940, Austria was about two years into its annexation by Hitler (the “Anschluss,” in March 1938). Following World War II, the Habsburg Empire having been dissolved nearly three decades previous, the once powerful seat of European power moved determinedly away from the world stage and international influence, and towards more artistic, ethereal matters.

A version of Abstract Expressionism took hold in Austrian art circles, coming to be known as the decidedly apolitical movement Art Informel. But Jungwirth and other contemporaries would ultimately counter with Wirklichkeiten (Realities), a collective which, eventually inspired by the looming countercultural upheavals of the ’60s, chose a more provocative approach. She was the only female member.

More than five decades later, she is still remarkably relevant. And the London (Marylebone) outpost of Thaddaeus Ropac, a gallery concern of course founded in Salzburg in 1981, is currently presenting All Will Fall, a prodigious exhibition of her most recent, large-format oil paintings. Most intriguingly, she has undertaken a recent fascination with Francisco Goya, the 18th Century Spanish Romantic who also exhibited the occasional proclivity towards the more gothic and gruesome. This show specifically references his aquatint etchings from Los Caprichos (1797–99), which was a rather unkind portrait of those bewitched by the spell of amor.

Her 2022 series Hexenflug, specifically, refers back to his Vuelo de Brujas (Witches’ Flight; c. 1798), a sextet of paintings based on – obviously – witchcraft. It becomes matter-of-factly feminist from her point of view, considering the modern definition as being much more about the kinship of women and that of the natural world, in all its ready “magic,” than any notions of sinister spell casting.

Even the superstar songstress Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta is given the abstract treatment here, in the new painting simply titled Lady Gaga (2022). It is Jungwirth’s poignant attempt to convey ideas about female power within an entertainment business still lorded over by men, with real change occurring at a seemingly even slower pace than less, shall we say, overtly “liberal” industries. (The same might be said, surely, for the business of art.)

Notably, art historian Jörg Heiser has compared her work to that of American Abstract Expressionist Joan Mitchell, a keen observation in that both have used abstraction to convey a sense of vitality and humanity. Jungwirth herself describes her work as something of a seismographic diary, and so one can readily locate autobiographical bits scattered across her canvases.

“My pictorial reality is charged with passion,” she explains, “a language tied to the body, to dynamic movement. Painting is a matter of form, and then it receives a soul – through me. [By the] method of my work, I am completely related to myself.”

Martha Jungwirth’s All Will Fall will be on exhibit at Thaddaeus Ropac London’s Ely House through July 30.

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