Magdalena Abakanowicz

An obituary

On April 21, 2017 the Polish artist Magdalena Abakanowicz died at age 86. With her passing sculpture network and the art world lose a highly esteemed member and an excellent artist, who greatly influenced the second half of the 20th century with her artwork. Magdalena was present at the founding meeting of sculpture network in 2004 held at the Hochschule der Künste in Berlin (University of the Arts) and was also an honorary member of sculpture network since 2006. Her connection to the group was mainly expressed through her sincere friendship with our founder and Vice-Chairman Hartmut Stielow. Stielow describes this special relationship to sculpture network as follows: „It was of great importance to her to bring people together through art.  This is a philosophy that corresponds directly with that of sculpture network. That was also the reason why she supported the organization from the very beginning and helped us. She thought is was of fundamental importance that art and the institiutions that promote art act as an advocate for freedom and justice and that they connect societies beyond borders.“

Magdalena Abakanowicz and Hartmut Stielow
in Warsaw 2006

Born on June 20, 1930 in Falenty near Warsaw, Magdalena Abakanowicz grew up, like many Polish artists of her generation, in the shadows of and among the aftershocks of WWII. Her younger years were marked by the invasion of the Red Army and communistic repression. Under the  burden of socialistic realism she first began to study painting in 1950 at the Academy of Visual Arts in Warsaw. But soon her interest in sculpture was awoken. In the 1960’s she developed the famous "Abakans". These soft giant objects woven from sisal hemp and installed freely in the room, broke with the tradition that, up to then, had used textiles for purely decorative purposes on flat surfaces and brought her international recognition.

"Unrecognized" in Park Cytadela

Another important aspect of her work is highlighted by her installations "Crowds“, which consist of between thirty and three hundred individual sculptures. The occupation with “Crowds” accompanied her throughout her entire artistic career. In various poses, sometimes standing, sitting or dancing, and developed in a variety of materials – for example from fabric,  epoxy resin, wood, iron, alumium or bronze - she created powerful figures in series, usually headless, that are reminiscent of people or animals.

Puellae (Girls), 1992

Stielow describes these sculptures: „For me her figures demonstrate the finding of an embryonic shape. They are unknowns without a distinct character. Making these in a large group was important to her; not the uniqueness of the individual.“ And yet: upon exact inspection each figure has its own individual form - individuality in the middle of a mass that appears to be absolutely conform. Abakanowicz herself said: „The crowd of people or animals is a collection of variations on a certain prototype. None of the figures can be reproduced exactly.“ This interaction between individuality and collectivism is one of her strongest messages.

Her works demonstrate an existential depth that cannot be escaped. They are her very personal answers to her own fate and that of the people of the 20th century. Magdalena Abakanowicz ranks among a generation of female artists such as Louise Bourgeois or Alina Szapocznikow, who received international attention due to their impressive works and knew how to permanently influence the art world.

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