Paulina Ołowska’s Intellectual Cocktail of Female Erotica

The artist restages and reconsiders the legacies of historical female intellectuals at Foskal Gallery Foundation, Warsaw

‘The first thing I do in the morning is brush my teeth and sharpen my tongue’, quipped the American writer Dorothy Parker. I’d like to think that Parker, whose poetry was once dismissed as ‘flapper verse’ in the New York Times, would have appreciated Paulina Ołowska’s ‘Amoresques: An Intellectual Cocktail of Female Erotica’, a solo exhibition that restages and reconsiders the legacies of some of Parker’s contemporaries in an attempt to tease out the female gaze.

At the core of the show is a series of seven new paintings. The canvases, which are spread throughout an entire floor of the gallery, are based on a single motif: two stripped figures. A long-haired female, her face hidden, is embracing a male, his head on her shoulder and his hands on her buttocks, as if poised to remove her underwear. The large canvases, set in pink and violet tones with patches of black, exude a sultry, heavy aura.


Paulina Ołowska, 'Amoresques - An Intellectual Cocktail of Female Erotica’, exhibition view, Foksal Gallery Foundation, Warsaw. Courtesy: the artist and Foskal Gallery Foundation, Warsaw; photograph: Justyna Gryglewicz

Tracing the shifts and changes between the images – each undergoes a different treatment of oil paint, gouache and pastel – it becomes evident that the motif is little more than a single element amongst many. In Silver Foam (2018), the scene rests horizontal and barely legible. In the foreground are lines of poetry, inscribed in white, a black contour drawing of a nude woman and what seems to be an ancient vessel decorated with a quasi-mythological scene. The textual elements are taken from the poems of Maria Pawlikowska-Jasnorzewska, referred to as the ‘Polish Sappho’. The nude is a visual quote from – and tribute to – the prolific Maja Berezowska, who never abandoned her fascination with the female body, in spite of tribulations. While in Paris in the 1930s, Berezowska published a series of caricatures of Adolf Hitler, prompting an intervention by the local German Embassy and a symbolic monetary fine. After the Nazi invasion of Poland, Berezowska was hunted down and sent to the Ravensbrück concentration camp. She survived and embarked upon a successful career as an illustrator, all the while living with an abusive, violent husband.

The words and shapes that populate Ołowska’s canvases act to define her protagonists – the poet and the caricaturist – allowing them to emerge as fully fledged individuals with their own distinct biographies. Such characterization sits in contrast to that of the source material itself, the leitmotif of the couple taken from a shoot in Viva, an ‘adult women’s magazine’ launched in 1973 by American photographer and founder of Penthouse, Bob Guccione, which frequently came under fire as a projection of male fantasy. Less riddles than palimpsests, Ołowska’s canvases play host to different moments in time in the hope of creating new, productive readings. As #MeToo and #NotSurprised send a wave of reckoning through the culture industry, this act of ‘retro-feminism’ asks questions about the authorship of, and the power over, the gaze.


Paulina Ołowska, 'Amoresques - An Intellectual Cocktail of Female Erotica’, exhibition view, Foksal Gallery Foundation, Warsaw. Courtesy: the artist and Foskal Gallery Foundation, Warsaw; photograph: Justyna Gryglewicz

The second floor of this ‘intellectual cocktail’ is visually and emotionally pared-down. One wall is hung with a series of drawings by Berezowska, which feature figures and, in the case of Poppies: Overblown Tulips (before 1978), austerely depicted plants, while the floor is strewn with a number of Ołowska’s small ceramic sculptures that transform the caricaturist’s scenes into three-dimensional compositions. In the centre of the room, water gushes into the silver-plated bowl of a massive, chalice-shaped fountain, Amoresques (2018), composed of black ceramic and odd pockets of opalescent blueish-white that resemble spit or some other organic substance. A fascinating piece in the constellation, the work aptly connects the metaphorical and the literal, the beautified and the abject – a fitting vessel from which to drink the eponymous cocktail.

'Paulina Ołowska: Amoresques: An Intellectual Cocktail of Female Erotica' is on view at Foskal Gallery Foundation, Warsaw until 30 March.

Paulina Ołowska, 'Amoresques - An Intellectual Cocktail of Female Erotica’, installation view, Foksal Gallery Foundation, Warsaw. Courtesy: the artist and Foskal Gallery Foundation, Warsaw; photograph: Justyna Gryglewicz

Krzysztof Kościuczuk is a writer and contributing editor of frieze. He lives in Warsaw.

Issue 194

First published in Issue 194

April 2018

Most Read

Royal bodies, the ‘incel’ mindset and those Childish Gambino hot-takes: what to read this weekend
In further news: women wearing rainbow badges beaten in Beijing’s 798; gallerists Georg Kargl and Richard Gray have...
‘Coping as a woman in France is a daily battle: the aggression can be subtle, and you always have to push harder to...
The rapper and artist have thoughts about originality in art; Melania Trump tries graphic design – all the latest...
The dilapidated Nissen hut from which Rachel Whiteread will take a cast
Yorkshire residents complain that the concrete sculpture of a ‘Nissen hut’ will attract excrement, vandalism and litter
Poul Erik Tøjner pays tribute to Denmark’s most important artist since Asger Jorn
Toyin Ojih Odutola’s portraits of a fictional aristocratic Nigerian family push toward an expanded definition...
Photographer Dragana Jurisic says her account was deactivated after she uploaded an artwork depicting a partially naked...
In further news: open letter protests all-male shortlist for BelgianArtPrize; Arts Council of Ireland issues...
From Sol Calero’s playful clichés of Latin America to an homage to British modernist architect Alison Smithson
Everybody’s favourite underpaid, over-educated, raven-haired art critic, Rhonda Lieberman, is as relevant as ever
‘Prize & Prejudice’ at London's UCL Art Museum is a bittersweet celebration of female talent
The curators want to rectify the biennale’s ‘failure to question the hetero-normative production of space’; ‘poppers...
A fragment of the brutalist Robin Hood Gardens will go on show at the Venice Architecture Biennale
‘Women's role in shaping the history of contemporary art is being reappraised’
Three shows in Ireland celebrate the legendary polymath, artist and author of Inside the White Cube
The legendary performance artists will partner up again to detail their tumultuous relationship in a new book
An open letter signed by over 100 leading artists including 15 Turner prize-winners says that new UK education policy...
Naturists triumph at art gallery; soothing students with colouring books; Kanye’s architectural firm: your dose of art...
Avengers: Infinity War confirms the domination of mass culture by the franchise: what ever happened to narrative...
The agency’s founder talks about warfare in the age of post truth, deconstructing images and holding states and...
From hobnobbing with Oprah to championing new art centres, millennial crown prince Mohammed bin Salman is following a...
A juror for the award last year, Dan Fox on why the Turner Prize is and always will be political (whatever that means)
The argument that ancestral connection offers a natural grasp of the complex histories and aesthetics of African art is...
One of most iconic and controversial writers of the past 40 years, Tom Wolfe discusses writing, art and intellectual...

Latest Magazines

frieze magazine

March 2018

frieze magazine

April 2018

frieze magazine

May 2018