Magdalena Abakanowicz
Polish/Russian, 1930

Her work is all of these and more: oversize - haunting - individuality - dignity - multiplicity - metaphoric - ambiguous

Artist Statement

Magdalena Abakanowicz for many years has dealt with the issue of "the countless". She says: I feel overwhelmed by quantity where counting no longer makes sense. By unrepeatability within such quantity. A crowd of people or birds, insect or leaves, is a mysterious assemblage of variants of a certain prototype, a riddle of nature abhorrent to exact repetition or inability to produce it, just as a human hand can not repeat its own gesture.
A statement from her website by Arthur Starewicz

Each of her figures is an individuality, with its own expression, with specific details of skin. Organic, with the imprint of the artist's fingers. Their surface is natural like tree bark or animal fur or wrinkled skin. Like all her sculptures also these works are unique objects.

Magdalena Abakanowicz was born in an aristocratic Polish-Russian family on her parent’s estate in Poland. The war broke out when she was nine years old. Then came the revolution imposed by Russia and the forty-five years of Soviet domination.

Poland was a politically volatile country where instability was a permanent state. She has learned to escape to her corner, to make the best of things, to use whatever was viable and even to make gigantic works in a tiny studio. Her art has always addressed the problems of dignity and courage. This dignity resistance and will of survival conceal her individual personal affinities to the culture of Poland, the country where she has grown up, to this country’s political situation, and to the realities of existence of an artist, an intellectual.

The metaphoric language of her work has achieved a point of junction, which still is a challenge for mankind, for all its sophisticated civilisation. This is the point where the organic meets the non - organic, where the still alive meets that which is already dead, where all that exist in oppression meet all that strive for liberation in every meaning of this word. With forty years of work behind her one can see her development like a map unfolded on the table.

On this map the human figure belongs to a vast territory inhabited by crowds and flocks of headless figures. The idea of a crowd has many reverberations in her mind. One of them is the transformation of an individual into a cog. Abakanowicz says: "I immerse in the crowd, like a grain of sand in the friable sands. I am fading among the anonymity of glances, movements, smells, in the common absorption of air, in the common pulsation of juices under the skin...” The entire population of her figures is enough to fill a large public square. They are today over thousand but they have never been seen together. They remain in various museums, public and private collections in different parts of the world. They constitute a warning, a lasting anxiety.

Very few images in contemporary art are as emotive and as disturbing. She started with soft and pliable objects that were rough to the touch. First came the ‘Abakans’ (1966-75), so-called after her own name. These enormous three-dimensional hanging structures, woven form a variety of fibres. Michael Brenson has referred to as not only objects but also spaces. To enter the ‘Abakans’ and to remain inside them is to allow the sensation of interiority to become a condition.

Other soft works included ‘Embryology’ – a sequence of some 800 stuffed potato-shaped forms of varying sizes, covered with sacking and occasionally spilling their innards.

Gradually the objects became hard but continued to be made of fragile or perishable materials. These were the seated or standing figures, backs, hands, heads.

Shy by nature and lonely in the creative process, she has made her contact with people through over one hundred personal exhibitions, which she arranged herself as "still ceremony" hidden behind which she felt secure. She went on to receive large outdoor commissions in Italy, Japan, S.Korea, Israel, Lithuania and other countries she built out of bronze or stone large "spaces to contemplate", where the tension of space invited the viewer to go between the forms of petrified energy. Each of her forms figurative or non - figurative is rich in its own history. Abakanowicz changed the meaning of sculpture from object to look at into space to experience. The first was ‘Katarsis’, thirty-three larger than life size, bronze figures, for the Giuliano Gori collection, near Pistoia, Italy.

Subsequently she continues to make works in space. She made bronze figures, human heads, animal and dragon heads, and ‘Hand-Like Trees’ (1994-1997).

This series is still in the process of completion. Apart from bronze, she used tree trunks with steel cuffs for her cycle of ‘War Games’ (1989 - 90).

Abakanowicz, creates ambiguous images with many meanings. Some are concealed, some combined with others. These are what every viewer must find for him or herself. To reveal them all would be to tell the reader how a film ends.


born 1930 Falenty, Poland

1950-1954 Academy of Fine Arts, Warsaw, Poland

Selected Museums and Private Collections
Australian National Gallery of Art, Canberra Caracas Museum of Modern Art, Venezuela
Center for Contemporary Art, Warsaw, Poland
Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, France
Citadel Park, Poznan, Poland
Chicago Grant Park, Chicago, USA
Des Moines Art Center, Iowa, USA
Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park, Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA
Giuliano Gori, "Spazi d'Arte", Fattoria di Celle, Italy
Ground for Sculpture, Hamilton, New Jersey, USA
Hakone Open Air Museum, Japan
Hess Collection, Napa Valley, California, USA
Hiroshima City Museum of Contemporary Art, Japan
Hirshhorn Museum, Washington, D.C., USA
Israel Museum, Jerusalem
Jardin des Tuileries, Paris, France
Kunstindustrimuseet, Oslo, Norway
Kyoto National Museum of Modern Art, Japan
Los Angeles County Museum, California, USA
Ludwig Museum, Koln, Germany
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, USA
Musee d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, France
Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, USA Museum of Contemporary Crafts, New York, USA
Museum of Modern Art, New York, USA
Muzeum Narodowe, Warsaw, Poland Muzeum Narodowe, Wroclaw, Poland Muzeum Sztuki, Lodz, Poland
Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, Madrid, Spain
Museo Rufino Tamayo, Mexico City, Mexico
Museum of Modern Art, Shiga, Japan
Museum Wurth, Kunzelsau, Germany
Nagoya City Art Museum, Japan
Nasher Sculpture Center, Dallas, Texas, USA
National Museum of Modern Art, Pusan, South Korea
National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. National Museum of Contemporary Art, Seoul, South Korea
National Museum, Stockholm, Sweden
Neanderthal Museum, Mettmann, Germany Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri, USA Phoenix Art Museum Sculpture Garden, Arizona, USA
Portland Art Museum, Oregon, USA
Princeton University Art Museum, New Jersey, USA
Provinciehuis, _s-Hertogenbosch, Holland
Runnymede Sculpture Farm, California, USA
Seoul Olympic Park, Seoul, South Korea
Sezon Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo, Japan
Sonja Henies Niels Onstads Stiftelser, Kunstsenter Hovikodden, Norway
Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, Holland
Storm King Art Center, New Windsor, NY, USA
Sun Jeu Museum, South Korea
Toledo Art Museum, Ohio, USA
Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, MN, USA
Western Washington University, Bellingham, USA
Wilhelm Lehmbruck Museum, Duisburg, Germany
Woman's Club of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, USA
Virginia Museum of Fine Art, Richmond, USA

Magdalena Abakanowicz by Magdalena Abakanowicz . 1996
Bronze Sculpture by Magdalena Abakanowicz. 1995
Magdalena Abakanowicz by Barbara Rose, 1994
Magdalena Abakanowicz: Recent Sculpture by Michael Brenson, 1993
Magdalena Abakanowicz: Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago by Magdalena Abakanowicz 1983
Fate and Art: Monologue. by Magdalena Abakanowicz, 2008
The Figurative Sculpture of Magdalena Abakanowicz: Bodies, Environments, and Myths by Joanna Nglot

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