Magdalena Abakanowicz: Creating Giants Among Us

Magdalena Figures

Polish artist Magdalena Abakanowicz has 106 sculptures displayed in the South Loop at the corner of Roosevelt Road and Michigan Avenue. These sculptures are among the most powerful forms of public art I have experienced in Chicago. The figurative forms are gigantic and have a mammoth feel to them. Upon walking through them, I find that they are not even full figurative forms but rather cast forms of torsos, legs, and feet. The scale is gigantic and the legs and feet seem to be out of proportion and irregular but work to create a human presence. Upon close examination of the cast brown forms, textures of burlap appear in the “skin” of the hollow forms. The experience of meandering through the sculptures is bigger than life. The composition of the figures is well planned for the site. A mass of figurative forms are together, walking about aimlessly; most are walking outwards from the group, but as you travel through the forms, every once in a while, you are confronted with a large-waisted form with a mammoth foot facing you. There is plenty of room for people to move freely among the colossal forms without feeling claustrophobic and to maintain a sense of being in a large crowd. As you get to the end of the cluster, a few of the figures are placed randomly in the garden to carry the sculptured pieces into the Chicago skyline.

Magdalena Figure2

Magdalena Abakanowicz knows the horrors of humanity too well. She experienced the shocking truth of war as the German soldiers invaded Poland, shot, and maimed her mother. Her family fled their aristocratic estate to avoid losing their lives. In the 1950s, Abakanowicz returned to Poland, attended art school, and worked in a silk factory. Frustrated with her everyday work, she began making large-scale drawings on paper, and later, on linen. From there she built a loom and taught herself weaving. She constructed large-scale weavings she named “Abakans” after herself. Her work transferred into three-dimensional form, and she continued working with fiber, such as burlap, to create plaster forms of the human body.

Magdalena Figure3

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