Jerzy Hanusek: On the Track of a Burning Giraffe (1991)

(The text was published in exhibition catalogue: Maria Pinińska-Bereś, BWA Gallery, Koszalin 1991)


(…) In a text – or in anything “surrounding art” – nothing in fact can be determined, although much is apparently determined. In reality everything is determined in the direct contact of the on looker with the artist’s work. One, whose emotional or intellectual strings are not touched, should treat all comments and opinions with reservation. They are often a deception that has nothing to do with art; they feverishly try to make up for the lack of the observer’s response. A certain principle may be seen here: the poorer the works at an exhibition, the greater the “refinement” and the heat of the text in the catalogue. That is why – despite my own interest – I would recommend the following: read less; perceive more. Maria Pinińska-Bereś does not need to fear that kind of test.

When one looks at recent works representative of feminist art in different countries, one is struck by the fact that this Polish artist got ahead of the trend of feminist criticism, achieving artistic results of equal importance, wrote Andrzej Kostołowski ten years ago.1Andrzej Kostołowski – Living Pink in Maria Pinińska-Bereś, the catalogue of the exhibition in Krzysztofory Gallery, 1980. They are unlike everything before them – stresses Bożena Kowalska.2Bożena Kowalska – Maria Pinińska-Bereś. Nostalgy and Sneer, Projekt 4/90. One more thing: her works are always beautiful in the literal sense of the word – adds Kostołowski.3Andrzej Kostołowski – Stone into Water in Maria Pinińska-Bereś. Objects of the 80-ies, the catalogue of the exhibition in the Krzysztof Gallery, January/ February 1988.

Beautiful and unique – let these two words suffice for the definition of the realm within which Maria Pinińska -Bereś’ works are situated (…)


With great reservation one should link Pinińska-Bereś’ works with feminist art. Some critics often take that easy way. If by feminism we understand a social movement, equipped with an ideology characterized by a specific interpretation of reality, explicitly specified reasons for a displeasing state of affairs, purposes and ways of behaviour, then, in my opinion, Pinińska’s art in not feminist. The only work that could provide a stronger basis for this judgement is a 1973 work, entitled: Is a Woman a Human Being?. A fragment of a nude, covered with kiss marks, has been cut out and hollowed out in the form of a lady’s swimming suit. Attached to the swimming suit is a tag, on which are indications of where to put the dates of production and expiration.

But already a 1969 work, Table, often mentioned by critics, is not subject to the same interpretation. On a festive table, richly set, like an Easter cake, lie, paper-mâché members of the body of a girl, who is lost in dream. A small flag saying I’m sexy is stuck in one of them. The outline of a man’s hands can be seen right beside them. The woman is obviously treated as a dish, in the situation of being a consumption. But the consumer’s hands are connected with the dish by a solid chain, and that evades the interpreters’ attention. Yet one does not get the impression that the dish could flee from the table – it is sleepy and waiting. The point is not to let the owner of the hands change his mind and start fasting, and, even more, not to let him change the table. Similarly, in the Feast (1968), the first spontaneous interpretation is questioned by the expression of a woman’s face, drawn on a table, next to a knife, a fork, and other fragments of her body, drawn or made out of paper-mâché. Who is going to feast here anyway? (…)

Pinińska Bereś’ works cannot be put into the feminist box. This fact has been confirmed by the artist’s personal contacts with the representatives of the movement. An objection has even been made that her works are feminist, but her views are not. Comments on her works can surely stop at the feminist plane, nevertheless in my opinion – this is only a surface.

The artist expressed her attitude towards feminism in the 1980 performance entitled Laundry. She washed white linen rectangles of sheets: dippers, cloths? Only when they are hung on a line, does it appear that each piece has a letter on it. Put together they form an inscription: Feminism. This situation ironically unmasks the double face of certain manifestations of this movement; laundry is being done, and the banner of feminism is fluttering.


It is not by chance that Maria Pinińska’s work is so willingly annexed by the advocates of the women’s liberation. Her works are existential par excellence; they express a truth about life; especially, for obvious reasons, about woman’s life. As for the feminist needs, her works express too much of the truth, and that is why they ruin from inside every ideology, into which they would be stuffed.

In recent years a lot of poor works of art that serve right and lofty ideologies have been promoted. Pinińska does not build on any ideology, considering existence in its intimacy. Can there be any other existence? It is existence without protecting masks. The few masks that can be identified are transparent and exposed: they do not serve to cover but to uncover. One reveals such existence only to oneself or to the priest in the confessional. Pinińska perceives it with a sharp and piercing eye, just as it is, not as it should be according to various doctrines or our own desires. And it is paradoxical, torn by antagonistic forces: already not carnal but still not quite spiritual; and already spiritual but at the same time carnal. Outside, at any time, demons lurk: a white little wing and a pink tongue – Window and Demons, year 1991.

Supressed suffering is born out of our addiction to carnality: we cannot live without it, and we do not want to. Yet we would prefer to be addicted to spirituality. We feel called do it. This dilemma is closely connected with man’s biological instincts, especially the erotic. In a man there is a tension between his carnality and spirituality. Subjectivity and objectivity are another pair of extremes responsible for the tension of human existence. Because of biological-historical reasons women probably experience this tension to a higher degree. This trend is not difficult to track in Pinińska’s works. (…)

To be a human or an animal? To be a subject or an object? These questions are not bard to answer. The immediate answers are obvious, although they are difficult to put into life. It should be pointed out here that the above-mentioned existential tensions meet. Contrary to the cultural intuition, subjectivity does not correspond to spirituality, but to carnality. Animals cannot objectify themselves they cannot transcend their centric position and look at themselves from a distance, as if they were extraneous objects. Human can do that. Some philosophers even maintain that ability differentiates human from animals. Spirituality as well as humanity are closely linked with the ability to objectify. Thus, the following existential questions are posed in a truly dramatic way: To be an object or an animal? To be a subject or a human? I think that in certain situations these questions demand answer. These events uncover Nietzsche’s depths of existence. We have gone far beyond the issues of gender, but Pinińska’s works pose existential questions of universal significance.

The intimate point of view made it possible for Pinińska to express the tragedy of martial law, introduced December 13, 1981, without giving up the essential values of her art, and without falling into pathos or banality, which happened in the case of many artists. A few weeks before the declaration of martial law, in a performance entitled Living Pink, Pinińska, full of anxiety, asked whether roses would bloom in pink again the following spring. Planting a real rose in “Planty” she was considering the prospects for her art and for the whole country. The tragedy of the beautiful winter was next intensified by the personnel feeling of passing of time and the loss of many precious years which were supposed to be quite different than those that actually passed (Hot Tears, 1982), and also by the reflection on her own past (And I Painted the World Pink, 1982/83), the loss of hope (The Last Ray, 1983, The End of the Feast, 1983), the feeling of futility of her art (The Fifth Angle, 1983), seeing religion in a new perspective (Smudged with the Sky, 1985, A Puff and the Edge of the Sky, 1986). Pinińska talks about herself all the time. Thanks to it she manages to convey a bit of truth about this period.


(…) The artist uses atypical materials: plywood, stuffed covers, quilts, covered sponges, glass, cotton, paper–mâché, stones. White and pink prevail. The works are not permanent, they are difficult to stare and transport, liable to get dirty, torp or crumpled. With the exception of a couple of her earlier works showing details of feminine silhouettes, the artist’s compositions are articles similar to those which can be seen in every home. A table, a bed, a screen, a cupboard, bedding, alt bear special mark, a mark of the sex. All is white or pink, oval, soft, graceful, somewhat mysterious, wrote Mariusz Hermansdorfer on the occasion of the Biennale in Sao Paulo.4Mariusz Hermansdorfer – the introduction to the catalogue of the 17-th International Biennial of Art, Sao Paulo 1983, ed. CBWA Warszawa

Figures rarely appear in Maria Pinińska-Bereś’ work. The existential situation is characterized either by objects taken from her environment or by the unique use of metaphors. Exotic flowers with lips sensuously opened, ambiguous “cakes”, licentious compositions with bedclothes, plump and slithering objects. The titles and additional maxims, carefully written with school calligraphy, carry the intimacy of confessions in a girl’s diary. There is not much nudity in Pinińska’s art, but those confessions are surely not innocent. The language developed by her, created by means of physical characteristics of used materials and the forms taken from them, is hardly vulgar. Despite this she can express the biological vulgarity of nature and the spiritual vulgarity of civilization, which we eagerly cover with spiritual masks. We are surprised to find ourselves in a trap: we usually see neutral forms, but demons are in us. (…)

Pinińska-Bereś’ works transcend traditional sculpture in many ways; the artist eliminates the problems of mass and its weight. But they are, and I would like to stress it very strongly, sculptures in the strict sense of the word. What is most important, (and Pinińska is Xawery Dunikowski’s pupil), is that traditional values of sculpture are being carefully and sophisticatedly realized. A good sculpture should resemble a beautiful woman: from each point of view she must present herself in an interesting way; each of her parts should be interestingly modelled, naturally or artificially. A good sculpture should be at home with space – if we imagine it in another position or in motion – we will not be disappointed. Pinińska’s sculptures are characterized by a spatial ease; they live in space; they form its fauna and not it’s rubble.

Pinińska has created a new language of sculpture. At first it served as a means of expressing messages that to a certain degree could be verbalized in our everyday language. Enriched and perfected over the years it freed itself from the original functions imposed on it. It’s logic, grammar and semantics started to lead their own lives. This process can be described as the maturation of form. It it’s final phase it does not need external content. The form can express itself as content. Pinińska loses control over it; the language starts to convey meanings that are a mystery also to her.

Let us have a look at the latest works: Princess Z (1987), The Beaty and the Beast (1989), A Burning Giraffe (1989), Odalisque and the Slave (1990), Two Graces Commenting on the Departure of the Third (1991),… Pinińska refers to the works of artists such as Moore, Brancusi, Ernst, Dali, David, Ingres. She can take the liberty to do that because she conveys meanings completely of her own, connected with form. Her works are a puzzle. Even a detailed description is not adequate, it is not really possible to convey the message verbally. It happens that works that are puzzles at the moment of creation show after many years the principle of their being, and they can be intellectually analysed. In my opinion Pinińska’s latest works will remain a mystery. Indeed, it is very difficult to find the reason of their appearance among already existing objects.

The message cannot become a cause for the because in this case it is born out of the form. It is rather the latter – I know it sounds unclear – that moved from passivity, from being subject to the creator, into activity, and now it reproduces itself calling into existence its own potentialities. To create a living form – that is the purpose of the artist.

Kraków June, 1991

Translated by Urszula Wieczorek

  • 1
    Andrzej Kostołowski – Living Pink in Maria Pinińska-Bereś, the catalogue of the exhibition in Krzysztofory Gallery, 1980.
  • 2
    Bożena Kowalska – Maria Pinińska-Bereś. Nostalgy and Sneer, Projekt 4/90.
  • 3
    Andrzej Kostołowski – Stone into Water in Maria Pinińska-Bereś. Objects of the 80-ies, the catalogue of the exhibition in the Krzysztof Gallery, January/ February 1988.
  • 4
    Mariusz Hermansdorfer – the introduction to the catalogue of the 17-th International Biennial of Art, Sao Paulo 1983, ed. CBWA Warszawa
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