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Panel discussion at Libra

27 February at 6 pm

Panel discussion in the gallery, with the authors of the texts published in the exhibition catalogue: Renata Piątkowska, Adam Sandauer, Piotr Słodkowski

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THE BEAUTY OF RESILIENCE.

STERN – ROSENSTEIN – STRENG/WŁODARSKI

 

An inundating feeling of discomfort, as if salt had been rubbed into a fresh wound,  accompanied me throughout the exhibition “Stern – Rosenstein – Streng/Włodarski. Between the Conscious and the Subconscious. Holocaust Reminiscence in Survivor Art”, currently held at the Libra Auction House. The show gathers visual testimonies of three prominent painters into a palimpsests of trauma and recovery, a collective requiem for the human condition.

 

"Stern—Rosenstein—Streng/Włodarski. Between the Conscious and the Subconscious. Holocaust Reminiscence in Survivor Art" exhibition, the Libra Auction House, Warsaw.

“Stern—Rosenstein—Streng/Włodarski. Between the Conscious and the Subconscious. Holocaust Reminiscence in Survivor Art” exhibition, the Libra Auction House, Warsaw.

 

The triad of the artists does not function as tokens of Jewish artists responding to the Holocaust trauma; Rather, they have been thoroughly selected based on their common origins in Lviv, their artistic trajectory, their friendship even. Their encounter in this show is only a reflection of their parallel life stories, as they struggled, flourished, and remained in the communist Poland. Yet, the apparent similarities ebb away when compared to radically different artistic strategies of voicing out the nightmare of the Shoah.

The small, nearly domestic gallery space compels a highly personal relationship between the viewer and the three artists figures. The painstaking, archival attempt to provide a comprehensive account of the artists’ response to the disaster of the Holocaust results in the impression of familiarity with the artists, as if it was not merely their art displayed here but also their characters were laid bare. In this, the exhibition manages to underscore the subjecthood and individuality of each of the protagonists, avoiding the trap of rendering them perpetual victims, bearing the ‘Survivor’ mark throughout the rest of their lives and careers.

Erna Rosenstein, "Cloudy Eye", 1981.

Erna Rosenstein, “Cloudy Eye”, 1981.

"Stern—Rosenstein—Streng/Włodarski. Between the Conscious and the Subconscious. Holocaust Reminiscence in Survivor Art" exhibition, the Libra Auction House, Warsaw.

“Stern—Rosenstein—Streng/Włodarski. Between the Conscious and the Subconscious. Holocaust Reminiscence in Survivor Art” exhibition, the Libra Auction House, Warsaw.

Henryk Streng/Marek Włodarski, cicra 1947

Henryk Streng/Marek Włodarski, cicra 1947

Despite the burdensome theme, the exhibition amazes with subtleties and nuances. It is present in the very core of the display, which presents the works of 3 persons, but 4 artists (Henryk Streng preserved his war-time identity and functioned under the name of Marek Włodarski for the rest of his life). Thus a rupture and disjunction step into the forefront of the show, prompting reflection on the significance and cohesion of identity under inhumane circumstances. In a way, the exhibition is about the shadow the Holocaust casted onto the oeuvres of the three artist, whose work had been irreversibly changed by this experience. In that sense, the show at the Libra presents us with a frail, ephemeral assemblage of testimonies, refractions of memory, still-frozen emotions. It is the task of the viewer to carefully collect all the fleeting impressions in order to comprehend both the message of the artists and the integrity of the authors.

Even though Streng/Włodarski remained faithful to the modernist idiom in his works, the dual identity he bore rendered his post-war works more viscous and enigmatic. The rectangle of the canvas became for him a function of his being, which led to the erasure of his old surname from the inter-war paintings. For Włodarski, the surface of his works was a field of active negotiation of his own identity in the face of social instability. Maneuvering between his rich artistic legacy and the dire reality of communist Poland, Włodarski enacted various temporalities, reviving the past, while actively inhabiting his new persona. Multiplicity, rupture and repetition underwrite the works of all the three artists.

Jonasz Stern, Cannibal's portrait, 1983.

Jonasz Stern, Cannibal’s portrait, 1983.

Erna Rosenstein, "Cloudy Eye", 1981.

Erna Rosenstein, “Cloudy Eye”, 1981.

Henryk Streng/Marek Włodarski, The Sea Tapestry, 1948.

Henryk Streng/Marek Włodarski, The Sea Tapestry, 1948

"Stern—Rosenstein—Streng/Włodarski. Between the Conscious and the Subconscious. Holocaust Reminiscence in Survivor Art" exhibition, the Libra Auction House, Warsaw.

“Stern—Rosenstein—Streng/Włodarski. Between the Conscious and the Subconscious. Holocaust Reminiscence in Survivor Art” exhibition, the Libra Auction House, Warsaw.

It seems that by exorcising visually their trauma, Stern, Rosenstein and Streng/Włodarski inevitably deconstruct the very medium they use. In Erna Rosenstein’s works such as ‘Shining from an unknown direction” or her series of drawings there is a detectable sense of temporariness, as if she had been only sketching, as if the piece was only an underpainting for her original thought. Yet, paradoxically, through this doubt the artist manages to employ numerous nuanced techniques, tenderly exploring the pictorial surface and the possibilities it yields to a traumatised subject. The manifold practice of Rosenstein is haunted by the persistent presence of the tragedies she experienced (she witnessed the brutal murder of her parents), which is repeatedly  projected onto the screen of her canvases, resonating through colours, fabric, texture, and representation. In her art, Rosenstein invites repetition as essential means in the process of healing and remembrance.

The few tablets by Jonasz Stern definitely constitute the most poignant, persuasive works in the entire show. His compositions, made out of collected animal bones and debris, echo the presence and imminence of death, bravely recalling the cruelty the author had witnessed himself (he survived his own execution and burial). The effort Stern made so as to organise the remains he amassed mirrors the effort of the survivors so as to understand the calamity that had fallen upon them. Through this gesture of saving the rejected objects, Stern symbolically pays tribute to the unknown victims, to the forgotten and disappeared, who had been crushed by the wheels of History.

 

"Stern—Rosenstein—Streng/Włodarski. Between the Conscious and the Subconscious. Holocaust Reminiscence in Survivor Art" exhibition, the Libra Auction House, Warsaw.

“Stern—Rosenstein—Streng/Włodarski. Between the Conscious and the Subconscious. Holocaust Reminiscence in Survivor Art” exhibition, the Libra Auction House, Warsaw.

What is particularly interesting is the structure of the show – it operates as a loop, in which the harrowing past is incessantly invoked. Even the display furthers the loop analogy for the paintings cover every possible piece of the walls, lacking a clear-cut conclusion. In an eerie reminiscence of the nineteenth-century French Salon, the exhibition dazes its audience with painful, abject content. However, the sense of intimacy with the absent artists, as it has developed during my time spent there, appeases the angst and gives way to the appreciation of the beauty, vulnerability and resilience present in the artworks.

Written by Dominika Tylcz

 


Stern – Rosenstein – Streng.

Between the Conscious and the Subconscious. Holocaust Reminiscence in Survivor Art.

1-28 February 2020

Libra Auction House & Gallery: Złota 48/54, 00–120 Warsaw

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"Stern—Rosenstein—Streng/Włodarski. Between the Conscious and the Subconscious. Holocaust Reminiscence in Survivor Art" exhibition, the Libra Auction House, Warsaw.

“Stern—Rosenstein—Streng/Włodarski. Between the Conscious and the Subconscious. Holocaust Reminiscence in Survivor Art” exhibition, the Libra Auction House, Warsaw.

"Stern—Rosenstein—Streng/Włodarski. Between the Conscious and the Subconscious. Holocaust Reminiscence in Survivor Art" exhibition, the Libra Auction House, Warsaw.

“Stern—Rosenstein—Streng/Włodarski. Between the Conscious and the Subconscious. Holocaust Reminiscence in Survivor Art” exhibition, the Libra Auction House, Warsaw.

"Stern—Rosenstein—Streng/Włodarski. Between the Conscious and the Subconscious. Holocaust Reminiscence in Survivor Art" exhibition, the Libra Auction House, Warsaw.

“Stern—Rosenstein—Streng/Włodarski. Between the Conscious and the Subconscious. Holocaust Reminiscence in Survivor Art” exhibition, the Libra Auction House, Warsaw.