No 3 (95) 2013
July - September

Paying a Visit to a Chic Lice Removing Place

I have been surprised anew with her work - apparently so well known - thanks to the „Erna Rosenstein. Organism" exhibition - mounted on the centenary of the artist's birth.

Marta Smolińska

Historian and art critic. Assistant Professor at the Toruń Nicolas Copernicus University Art History and Culture Faculty.

Marta Smolińska

THE SURPRISE WAS DUE to one of the side aspects of the exposition; I have discovered the Rosenstein written into the topos of a rag-and-bone man, as presented by Baudelaire and Benjamin, or - to preserve gender correctness - a rag-and-bone lady.

Le chiffonier is a figure of a poet and artist, who can find in urban wastes something of value which, however, is not "a product". Rosenstein's notes say that one should be able to take advantage of the vast unlimited that opens somewhere on the verge of reality and night dream, revealing the past full of trifle details. "All these [these trifles - added by M.S.] have been seen partially. Usually logic and a force of habit to the useful have been an obstacle".1) Martin Heidegger suggested that in the course of perceiving an object one spots in the first place its tool related features and handiness.2) In spite of the fact that this usefulness is in a way "rooted in an object, and one can tell at the first glance what it is meant for"3), Rosenstein knew how to turn a blind eye to it, so as to create a completely new object from a given nickknack or a piece of rubbish. As much as an ebonite telephone set - with bird's paws protruding from underneath a dial - evokes a specific type of "elegance" of surrealistic objects, the artist has been most original in her jewelry; bags and boxes of chocolates out of which someone had eaten all candies.

The representative of the 2nd Cracow Group has pointedly departed from the modernistic painting ethos to focus on garbage, junk, leftovers; using these with particular pleasure and a fresh look of a child. Bottle caps, spoons, paper clips, small pieces of metal, keys to God knows what locks, little bits of string and wire, screws, pieces of glass, nozzles, articulated joints, nails, buckles, crumpled oil filters ....have been turned into the hybrid like jewelry of astonishing shapes and junk art esthetics. She has not aspired to the role of an engineer who with cool precision constructs reliable machinery for the new brave world. She has put together frivolous forms - some phallic, others resembling breasts - that one suddenly discovers in the "stripped naked" mechanisms of doorbells. While doing this, she has taken a delight in an unlimited vastness of odds and ends. This is why these works express incredible freedom and a sense of mischief which in turn lead to (intended?) cut off from the pure medium of modernistic painting and the pathos of art by members - let us not hesitate to read this word literally - of the 2nd Cracow Group.

Jadwiga Maziarska used to adore hats, while Rosenstein was brave enough to manifest her femininity by means of showing the inside of her handbags. With regard to the latter, the exhibition curators mention the fact that she has anticipated the feminist art in Poland. These bags are opening vagina like, in a perverted and provocative manner to show what is inside; where apart from painted eyes, as though they were shut, one can see a tangle of ribbons, rags, threads, pieces of wool that provide a natural environment for ....dentures. An allusion to the vagina dentate topos? Dentures, hidden in soft yarn, are lying in wait, as though they were a predatory fish in a coral reef ready for a hand (could it be that not only for a hand?) that might slip in.

Erna, a mischievous bag-and-bone lady, involved in a game with form, has won me completely. I felt as though I paid a visit to a chic lice removing place, where a coiffeur pulls out of hair various, unexpected objects.4) As a result, I breathed the air of different modernism than the one dominating the Polish history of art.


1) Undated note. Quotation from: Erna Rosenstein. Winner of the 1996 Jan Cybis Award, Union of Polish Artists Warsaw District, Warsaw 1997.

2) A. Klawiter, How does One Recognize Tools? Philosophic and Cognitive Hypothesis, in: Man between Real and Virtual Reality, edited by A. Wójtowicz, Poznań 2006, p. 55-76.

3) Ibidem.

4) Lice removing place was mentioned by Rosenstein in the text "The Cracow Group Funfair" (1966).


"Erna Rosenstein. Organism"; curators: D. Jarecka, B. Piwowarska, Art Stations, Poznań, May - September 2013.