Renowned sculptor and fiber artist Magdalena Abakanowicz, Poland's leading visual artist, has died at age 86, the rector of Warsaw's Academy of Fine Arts said Friday.
Abakanowicz' work was notable for her larger-than-life, headless human figures, arranged in crowds in open spaces.
She primarily used thick fibers, hardened with synthetic resins. But she also worked with metals, stone and wood. Her pieces were disturbing and fascinating at the same time.
“Abakanowicz drew from the human lot of the 20th century, the lot of a man destroyed by the disasters of that century, a man who wants to be born anew,” said Andrzej Szczerski, head of the National Museum in Krakow.
Her works include “War Games,” featuring trunks of old trees turned into shapes evoking regret. They also include 20 “Walking Figures” in bronze, “Space of Stone” made of granite boulders and the “Unrecognized,” a group of 112 cast iron figures.
“Agora,:” an installation by Abakanowicz that was unveiled in Chicago in 2006, continued her exploration of bronze figures. In a review of the work, Chicago Tribune critic Alan G. Artner wrote, “Let there be no mistake: Magdalena Abakanowicz's “Agora,” the installation of 106 cast-iron figure sculptures that will be unveiled at the south end of Grant Park Thursday morning, is at once a strong achievement and a giant step back from the abstract pieces the artist created in fiber during the 1960s and '70s.
It makes the northeast corner of Michigan Avenue and Roosevelt Road a place for contemplating the human condition even if its formal means are much less commanding than those that decades ago revolutionized textile art and made Abakanowicz the best-known living Polish artist.”
The Chicago history of Abakanowicz includes a 1982-83 exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, and three textile works (not on display) that are part of the collection at the Art Institute of Chicago.
Adam Myjak, rector of the Fine Arts Academy in Warsaw, told Polish PAP agency that Abakanowicz had died, and the academy confirmed that to The Associated Press.
She began her artistic career as a painter, but soon moved to making three-dimensional pieces from soft fabrics and fibers, works now known as “Abakans.” That led her to larger, firm sculpture forms to be arranged in natural surroundings.
Abakanowicz said it fascinated her to explore new techniques and to develop new forms.
“She showed that sculpture does not need to be in one block, that it can be a situation in space and that it can be made of fabrics,” art critic Monika Branicka said.
Her works were shown around the world, including at the Metropolitan Museum in New York and the Tate Modern in London.
Culture Minister Piotr Glinski said her death was “sad news for Poland's culture.”
Abakanowicz was born June 20, 1930, in Falenty, near Warsaw. After World War II, she studied at art schools and academies in Gdansk and the in Warsaw, where she settled for life.
It was not immediately known when she would be buried.