Maria Pininska-Beres, Window in Spring, 1976, plywood, canvas, cotton, acrylic, 57 1⁄8 × 81 1⁄8 × 20 7⁄8".

Maria Pininska-Beres, Window in Spring, 1976, plywood, canvas, cotton, acrylic, 57 1⁄8 × 81 1⁄8 × 20 7⁄8".

Maria Pininska-Beres

The Approach

“A window view is not the real thing,” Maria Pinińska-Bereś (1931–1999) wrote in 1994, at a time when she was prevented by illness from “actively communing” with the outdoors. In the same text, she remembers one summer when she “escaped from the ‘cage’ of the garden” and “pressed herself into the moss, wallowing in it, moaning in ecstasy.” These reflections find more immediately accessible form in two works chronologically bookending “Living Pink,” the first presentation of the artist’s work outside her native Poland. The show comprised a total of nine pieces spanning mixed-media performance documentation, sculpture, and a combination of drawing and collage, all highlighting Pinińska-Bereś’s unusual, surrealistic engagement with feminine experience. The earliest work on view was Window in Spring, 1976, a giant pink pillow bursting as if in protest out of a surrounding white-and-pink box frame whose shutters extend theatrically, like butterfly wings. The last one, the rectangular, glass-fronted casement of Window and Demons II, 1996, figures a pink tongue that stretches down from inside the top of a pale-blue frame, not quite able to touch an elongated clitoral form. Sky meets ground behind the fleshy organs: A white cloud sits on the horizon, and a cursive I marks a spot that might one day pleasurably orient body within landscape.

Smudged with the Sky, 1985, hints at freedom and the potential to soar above the Earth like an airplane. One length of pink, wing-shaped plywood lies flat to the floor; another is tipped with blue and reaches ceilingward. A cotton-stuffed canvas cord connects the two halves along a central hinge; the loops of cord resemble a harness, as if inviting viewers to try on the wings and fly. As evidenced by works such as Passage Beyond the Quilt, 1979–, a performance presented here via sculptural installation, photographic documentation, and text, Pinińska-Bereś’s art was at times a joy and at others a burden, much like femininity and its trappings as she depicted them. In the first of eight individually framed black-and-white photos installed above a trapezoidal white quilt weighed down with gray-brown stepping-stones, Pinińska-Bereś is captured in profile, kneeling, shoulders slumped, and head bowed. The ensuing images show her journey across the quilt from one stone to another, carrying an overflowing armful of irregular pink-and-white cushions (termed rejected soft objects in an accompanying wall text written by the artist for the performance’s 1979 debut at the Bunkier Sztuki Gallery of Contemporary Art in Kraków, Poland), along with what the same text refers to as an author’s flag. This flag was propped near the corner of the gallery against the wall; a larger pink flag fluttered on the gallery’s external wall, visible from the street.

The exhibition’s title comes from the 1981 performance Living Pink, staged shortly after the imposition of martial law in Poland. Pinińska-Bereś planted a pink rosebush outside the Bunkier Sztuki and in three languages asked aloud “whether roses are going to bloom pink in Poland next spring.” How, today, can we touch the reality of Communist Poland and the transitional moment that Maria Pinin´ska-Beres´ lived through? History’s mediation may seem to make the past more approachable, yet it is not easily digested through art. One Sunday afternoon during the run of the show, Pinińska-Bereś’s daughter Bettina reinterpreted, for the first time, her mother’s Actions for Kitchen Utensils, 1996, which she was able to learn thanks to its having been documented on video. Fifteen years after Pinińska-Bereś asked about the color of roses in Living Pink, leaving the answer to hope and chance, she invoked color as an act in Actions for Kitchen Utensils, whipping egg whites into peaks and gradually stirring in pink pigment. In the dramatic finale, Bettina removed the straw hat she had been wearing, placed it atop the table before her, and distributed the mixture into evenly spaced meringues around the brim. One additional dollop on the top of the hat turned the burden of daughterhood into a heaviness gladly assumed.