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Magdalena Abakanowicz

Agora in Chicago

Agora in Chicago, Grant Park. The site is populated by 106 individualized figures cast out of iron in Poland. Pictured is the artist.

33 • Fine Art Magazine


ery few images in contemporary art are as attractive, bold and at the same time as disturbing as Magdalena Abakanowicz’s “Agora in Chicago.” From the Greek word for “meeting place,” the installation consists of 106 iron reddish figures, each about 9 feet tall, shell-like, frozen in walking movement across three acres in Grant Park. Each of her figures is individuality personified, with its own expression and specific detail of skin. If you meander through and between this imposing gallery of giants, you’ll feel part of the crowd and find it impossible to escape from this allegorical vision of humanity questioning our past, and searching in this time for a new space of universal freedom.

About the meaning of sculpture

Magdalena Abakanowicz What is sculpture? With impressive continuity it testifies to man’s evolving sense of reality, and fulfils the necessity to express what cannot be verbalized.


“Art needs somebody to listen to its message, somebody to desire it, somebody to drink it, to use it like wine - otherwise it makes no sense.” Her concerns with freedom date to her youth when she was confronted by dramatic events during Germany’s occupation of her native Poland during the Second World War followed by decades of Soviet domination. Her sculptures often reflect the emotional disturbance of those years. �������������������������������������������� Perhaps the secret purpose of this allegory is to renew the antique idea of democracy. How else are we to explain the confrontation of aesthetic and spiritual exchange in Agora in Chicago with the viewer? Abakanowicz has described herself traveling as “a pilgrim who wishes to be absolved by others. As a missionary who wants to

Seated Figures 34 • Fine Art Magazine

preach his own truth convinced that it will cure others. As a loner overcoming his timidity to get to know other people. Finally as somebody who carrying his own life displays it on the stall allowing strangers to touch it.” Abakanowicz believes that our experience of her own life--however different it may seem from ours--through her work will result in a “friendship of brief encounters . . . based on mutual confidence.” Born in 1930, a descendant of Polish nobility, Magdalena Abakanowicz studied at the school of Fine Arts in Sopot in 1949 and at the Fine Arts Academy in Gdansk. She graduated from the academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw in 1954, began working as an independent artist in 1956, earning success for monumental three dimensional woven sculptures she called “Abakans,” a derivation of her family name. She initially worked in textiles, fibres or ropes. Her works now are generally made of hard surfaces — ­bronze, iron, stone, or concrete. Abakanowicz has changed the meaning of sculpture from objects to look at into space to experience. The first was Katarsis, thirty-three larger than life-size bronze figures of human heads, animals and dragon heads (Guiliano Gori collection, Pistoia, Italy), and Hand-Like Trees (1994-1997). She has continuously expanded her research to a grand scale, exploring alternate materials. Her monumental textiles — crowds of limbless or headless and anthropomorphic ropes — created a new aesthetic vocabulary for contemporary art. Her concept of the crowd has many reverberations in her mind. One of them is the transformation of an individual into a cog. “I immerse in the crowd, like a grain of sand in the friable sands. I am fading among the enormity of glances, movements, smells, in the common absorption of air, in the common pulsation of juices under the skin.”

Then she added “I feel overawed by quantity where counting no longer makes sense. By unrepeatability within such a quantity. By creatures of nature gathered in herds, droves, species, in which each individual while subservient to the mass, retains some distinguishing features. A crowd of people or birds, insects or leaves, is a mysterious assemblages of variants of certain prototype. A riddle of nature’s abhorrence of exact repetition or inability to produce it. Just as the human hand cannot repeat its own gesture. I invoke this disturbing law, switching my own immobile herd into that rhythm.” One the most startlingly innovative artists of our time, her massive series of sculptures has earned her international acclaim. Abakanowicz on the Roof, her 10,000 square-foot open air exhibit atop the Lila Acheson Wallace Wing of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City (1999) featured a selection of figural works, including signature pieces as well as works that had never before been exhibited. She is professor of art since 1979 and has been made “Doctor honoris causa” by a dozen prestigious universities around the world. Her art work has appeared internationally through 100 group and solo exhibits, and she has already exhibited over 1,000 figures in major museums. Many are large permanent outdoors installations, scattered throughout the world in such places as Washington, D.C.; Dallas, Paris, Lisbon, Jerusalem, Minneapolis, Kansas City and New York City. Magdalena Abakanowicz creates ambiguous images with many meanings. Some are concealed, some combined with others. Her work always is questioning the meaning. That is why every spectator should visit Agora in Chicago and discover via each angle and perspective the truth revealed to … himself. —SERGE LENCZNER 35 • Fine Art Magazine



Banished from Paradise, man found himself confronted by the space of the world. It was a territory unknown and inconceivable — as inconceivable as overabundance or emptiness. He tried to reach unknown powers, raising stones, building areas of special meaning ‌ With the development of society, sculpture began to visualize gods, to glorify leaders, to commemorate history, finally to decorate life. Today, we are confronted with the inconceivable world we ourselves created.

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Its reality is reflected in art. From time to time, a civilization falls into disgrace and art is destroyed by wars and fanaticism. This happens also today. However some monuments remain along the path, which for hundreds of centuries would be otherwise unmarked. Without these milestones of his spiritual odyssey, man would be lost in darkness.

Agora, detail left


Unrecognized (winter) 36 • Fine Art Magazine

From the statement delivered by Magdalena Abakanowicz during the ceremony of conferring her the Award of International Sculpture Center for the Life Achievements . New York 2005.10.20

Magdalena Abakanowicz - Agora in Chicago  
Magdalena Abakanowicz - Agora in Chicago  

Magdalena Abakanowicz Agora in Chicago, Grant Park. The site is populated by 106 individualized figures cast out of iron in Poland. Pictured...