The Approach is both excited and honoured to present Living Pink, the first major solo exhibition of works by Maria Pinińska-Bereś(1931-1999) outside of her home country of Poland.
Living Pink takes its name from a 1981 performance that Pinińska-Bereś enacted at the Bunkier Sztuki contemporary art gallery in Krakow, where she planted a pink rose bush outside the gallery and asked “whether roses are going to bloom pink in Poland next spring?”– a hopeful sentiment amongst imminent darkness. Many of the works featured in this exhibition were produced during the 1980s – a politically oppressive time for Poland, after Martial Law was introduced by the governing communist regime on 13thDecember 1981 (and where it was enforced until July 1983, although many political prisoners were not freed until 1986).
Pinińska-Bereś’s practice was the antithesis of this authoritarian environment: the colour pink simultaneously and concisely encapsulated Pinińska-Bereś’s defiance of an undemocratic and patriarchal political system whilst being a joyful symbol of freedom that also celebrated the feminine and the erotic. The idea of ‘Living Pink’ applies to an attitude, a spirit, and a way of producing art that was intrinsic to Pinińska-Bereś’s practice. The pink flag proudly hanging outside The Approach is an homage to what Pinińska-Bereś called her ‘author’s standard’, at once her distinctive signature as well as a symbol for her concern with feminist issues.
The End of the Feast, 1983, and Smudged with the Sky, 1985, were both made during this period of extreme surveillance and oppression within Poland. Pinińska-Bereś describes how she felt that “the work of the Martial Law was for me torture, struggle, strife […] The ‘80s left a mark (stigma) on my works… What we were experiencing influenced my art, making it sad, with less sex and less pink. Pink seemed to me an inappropriate colour [to the situation], sex as well.”End of the Feast represents this more melancholic moment for Pinińska-Bereś, the pink folded protrusions suggest red-wine-soaked napkins, scrunched up and discarded at the end of a meal to which the artist wasn’t invited (an allusion to her exclusion from art exhibitions during this period). Smudged with the Sky, however,is more hopeful. It possesses a strong sense of freedom; its construction mimicking a pink bird or butterfly opening its wings, preparing to fly away.
The original Polish title for Smudged with the Sky is Pomazany niebem. The word ‘niebo’ means both ‘sky’ and ‘heaven’; whilst ‘pomazany’ means ‘smudged’, but also ‘anointed’. Although the title Smudged with the Sky implies becoming connected or assimilated with the sky above, like a creature flying up, up and away; Pinińska-Bereś is also consecrating this work, declaring it as sacred, where earth meets heaven.
Window in Spring, 1976, hails from a much earlier period for Pinińska-Bereś, when she was making her Psycho Furniture series. A happy moment where she had found her artistic identity, reclaiming surrealism to create hyper-feminine sculptures through both her repeated use of the colour pink alongside the adoption of lightweight materials such as plywood, cotton wool and polyurethane foam. Window in Spring represents the freedom and lightness that Pinińska-Bereś felt in making these erotic and feminine sculptures. The window itself is also a symbol for breaking free from traditional patriarchal conventions and with it, liberating oneself from the existential burdens of being a woman and instead celebrating all the virtues of womanhood.
The later window works, Window with Small Clouds, 1990, and Window with Demons II, 1996, created in the ‘90s also emanate a sense of freedom and, although the windows are closed, their perspective is always looking outwards. The Window works from this period are all constructed from found wooden window frames, which Pinińska-Bereś then decorated with paint and various soft materials. When referring to this series, she states that when one usually thinks of a window, they are imagining looking through it, to “the world outside the glass, but these Windows are the projections of our inner life. Shapes are often ambiguous and leave space for the viewer’s imagination. In Windows, we touch the external-internal relationship. How the external is subjective, and perceived through the prism of our self, our experiences, desires and fears.”In Window with Small Clouds, conjuring a landscape scene of sky and clouds, Pinińska-Bereś invites us to contemplate this existential state. Window with Demons II also evokes a landscape, but here we see a sun setting over a horizon line. The deep reds and oranges not only suggest a specific time of day, but also the erotic, particularly in light of the disembodied serpent-like tongues wriggling their way onto the scene. The salacious tongues proudly protrude almost as mountains breaking through earth and sky. Perhaps Window with Demons II is a more direct reference to Pinińska-Bereś’s idea that the windows show us projections of our innermost fears, desires and emotions.
In Passage Beyond the Quilt, we see the remains of a performance originally enacted by Pinińska-Bereś in 1979. The black and white vintage photographs displayed on the wall visually describe her performance; stepping on stones laid out across a white quilt, armed with soft pink and white stuffed cotton tubes and, most importantly, her ‘author’s standard’: the pink flag. Passage Beyond the Quilt was part of an enquiry by Pinińska-Bereś, where she was questioning her practice as a whole, its relationship to feminist issues, and what it means to have one’s work perceived as ‘women’s art’. The performance enabled Pinińska-Bereś to lay bare the softness and pinkness that has continued to mark her practice, being both proudly feminine as well as being distinctive to her. Maria Hussakowska describes the piece as Pinińska-Bereś’s internal battle, “a battle between her ideals of universal – neutrally white – art and the ever more strongly pressing pink of female carnality”.
To celebrate the exhibition, and to coincide with the Frieze East End Afternoon, Maria Pinińska-Bereś’s daughter, Bettina, will be re-enacting one of her incredible performances at the gallery on Sunday 29 September at 2.30pm.
Maria Pinińska-Bereś, Living Pink, performed at the BWA Kraków, November 1981
Maria Pinińska-Bereś from The Estate archives
Maria Pinińska-Bereś from The Estate archives
Maria Hussakowska, Thing Pink, in Maria Pinińska-Bereś 1931-1999, Galeria Sztuki Współczesnej Bunkier Sztuki w Krakowie, p 14-15
Maria Pinińska-Bereś (b. 1931, Poznań, d. 1999, Kraków) has shown in major solo and group exhibitions, including Shapeshifters: Sascha Braunig, Sandra Mujinga and Maria Pinińska-Bereś, The Approach, London (2019); The Power of Nature: Henry Moore in Poland, Centre of Polish Sculpture, Orońsko (2018); A-geometry. Hans Arp and Poland, National Museum, Poznań; Trace of a woman, BWA Gallery, Olsztyn; The Performer, Galeria Monopol, Warsaw (2017); TheWorld Goes Pop, Tate Modern, London (2016); Three Women – Maria Pinińska-BereśNatalia Lach-Lachowicz, Ewa Partum, Zachęta, National Gallery of Art, Warsaw (2011);Gender Check, MUMOK Museum of Modern Art, Vienna(2009); Maria Pinińska-BereśGaleria Sztuki Współczesnej Bunkier Sztuki w Krakowie, Krakow, touring to Galeria Bielska BWA w Bielsku-Białej, Bielsko-Biało and Galeria Miejska Arsenał w Poznanu, Poznań(1999-2000). Pinińska-Bereś’s works are in the following collections National Museum, Wrocław; Museum of Modern Art, Warsaw; MOCAK Museum of Contemporary Art, Krakow; National Gallery of Art, Warsaw; Migros Museum of Contemporary Art, Zürich; Museum Jerke, Recklinghausen; Kunstmuseum Bochum; Silesian Museum Katowice; Centre of Polish Sculpture, Orońsko.