Erna Rosenstein, Once Upon a Time, Hauser & Wirth New York

Photostory: Erna Rosenstein at Hauser & Wirth. Once Upon a Time A unique opportunity to see Erna Rosenstein’s monographic exhibition outside Poland

From 30 September, the New York Art Gallery Hauser & Wirth is showing an exhibition of works by Erna Rosenstein. “Once Upon a Time” is a great event for the art world, as it gives art lovers from outside of Poland a chance to get to know the rich oeuvre of one of the key figures of the Polish avant-garde. 

‘Once Upon a Time’ has been organized by curator Alison M. Gingeras. The exhibition brings together over forty works never seen outside of Poland, including institutional loans of landmark paintings and works from The Estate of Erna Rosenstein being exhibited publicly for the first time since the artist’s death in 2004. ‘Erna Rosenstein. Once Upon a Time’ is Hauser & Wirth’s first presentation of the artist’s work since undertaking representation of her estate in 2019, in collaboration with Foksal Gallery Foundation, Warsaw

Erna Rosenstein
Erna Rosenstein

‘Once Upon a Time’ is composed of paintings and sculptures that embody the constant interplay of figuration and abstraction, the literal and the fantastical, in Rosenstein’s oeuvre. The works on view draw from the many personal experiences, emotional losses, and haunting traumas surrounding her Jewish identity. 

A highlight of the first floor of the exhibition includes a zigzagging wall that recreates the unconventional design of Rosenstein’s landmark 1967 monographic exhibition at the Zachęta National Gallery of Art in Warsaw. Dating from the early 1950s to the end of the 1970s, abstracted landscapes and biomorphic reveries are hung on the wall in succession, demonstrating the intense focus of those two decades of her practice and reflecting the political and personal turmoil of those years. 

In addition to a survey of Rosenstein’s multifaceted painting work, ‘Once Upon a Time’ also includes a selection of untitled assemblages made by the artist beginning in the early 1980s, a period of martial law in Poland when scarcity prevailed. These works – among them a cigarette pack with eyes, and an old purse with teeth – transform the most everyday bric-a-brac into the substance of art, and further collapsing boundaries between figuration and abstraction. From as early as the 1940s, Rosenstein’s writings coexisted alongside her visual art practice. After the birth of her son, Adam Sandauer, in 1950, she began composing fairytales. Much like her paintings, these drew their narratives from the tension between magical realism and a bleak, pragmatic reality replete with loneliness and misfortune.

Born in 1913 in Lwów (now the Ukrainian city Lviv) and raised in Kraków, Erna Rosenstein emerged as part of the Polish avant-garde in the 1930s, associated with the Kraków Group. She studied at the Wiener Frauen Akademie in Vienna in 1932-1934 and then at the Academy of Fine Arts in Kraków between 1934-1937. She was part of a tight-knit circle whose artistic innovations were rooted in socially progressive left-leaning politics and who mobilized actions under the Communist Union of Polish Youth. As part of the Kraków Group, she identified with such fellow artists as Jonasz Stern, Jadwiga Maziarska, and especially, Tadeusz Kantor, whose underground experimental artistic and theater activities embraced Surrealism. In late 1937, prior to the outbreak of the Second World War, she spent several months in Paris where she saw the Exposition Internationale du Surréalisme (International Surrealist Exhibition) organized by André Breton and Paul Éluard. Passing through Germany on her way home to Poland, she also visited the Berlin edition of the Nazi Party’s notorious Degenerate Art Exhibition. These two shows made a profound impact upon Rosenstein’s early artistic ideas and undoubtedly influenced her storied career. 

Erna Rosenstein. “Once Upon a Time”

30 September – 23 December 2021

Hauser & Wirth New York, 69th Street 


Return to the homepage

This might interest you