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FLORENTINA PAKOSTA. A Retrospective at Albertina Museum

Category: Exhibition 27. June 2018

Besides Maria Lassnig and VALIE EXPORT, she is one of the most important feminist artists in Austria: In cooperation with the Sprengel Museum Hannover, the Albertina presents a comprehensive retrospective of the oeuvre of Florentina Pakosta, on the occasion of her 85th birthday. The exhibition was curated by Elsy Lahner.

Screaming or grinning faces, grotesque heads with bird’s beaks, a fist punching out of a mouth – in her partly hyper-realistic drawings, Florentina Pakosta tackles issues like social conditions, role stereotypes and power structures. She focuses on patriarchy in general and masculinity in particular, on the body language of power and its facial expressions.

Her drawing technique with crossed lines reminds of prints, the nuances of black colour on the white paper demonstrates all the expressive possibilities of her carefully employed laconism, they immediately catch the eye, highlighting her poetic irony or her dramatism. They are visual metaphors that at times remind of Magritte, there are characters that remind of Goya, examples of virtuosity and humour, where she deforms and distorts physiognomies, with saws, scissors or toilet seats protruding from men’s heads, with hybrid heads like Revolver Head (1979) or Scissor Mouth (1980).

Inspired by Baroque sculptor Franz Xaver Messerschmidt, she drew grimacing men as well as a large formatted series of portraits of celebrities. Although these grimaces and hybrid heads are humorous, Pakosta’s drawings are not comical, tension- relieving laughter is not what she is after, and even if there is wisdom in the images she does not lecture, her intentions are indeed ethical.

She demands a moment of reflection by giving hints to realities that the viewer is supposed to recognize. The image is not limited by its content, it rather points to something beyond itself. Feminist and pacifist messages are recurrent topics in the oeuvre of the artist, who also is a prolific writer of essays and prose pieces.


Initially, the emphasis of the exhibition is on monochromatic drawings, graphic prints and etchings, mainly focusing on the physiognomies of (male) power.

After concentrating on unmasking the gestures of power in her work, Pakosta began to work in a more abstract manner, resulting in a surprising turning point in the exhibition.

During the 1980ies, and especially towards the end of this decade, abstract forms and experimentation with coulours begin to prevail over the figurative characters. However, consideration of social problems like the disappearance of the individual continue to be topics in her work ; mass phenomena, crowds of bald men, made in different techniques, like acrylic on canvas or spraying technique on paper. She also created pictures of masses of objects like colour tubes, shoes or clothespins, where she started using colours (A Piece of Blue Sky, 1988).

Around 1989, at the time of the revolutions in Eastern Europe, a radical change took place in Pakosta’s artistic work as well, as becomes evident in the Albertina exhibition. She turned to painting and to abstract shapes, and until today she creates series of her characteristical « three-coloured » geometrical pictures. The colour that increasingly entered her paintings should not be pleasant to the eye though, as the artist herself wrote, «every colour should be a dangerous poison »

Florentina Pakosta, who was born 1933 in Vienna, was the first female board member of the Vienna Secession, and she was responsible for the exhibition “Secessionistinnen 1978”, today considered a milestone for the recognition of the work of female artists in Austria.

The exhibition continues until August 26. 2018 (written by Cem Angeli)

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