“It happened to me to live in times which were extraordinary by their various forms of collective hate and collective adulation. Marches and parades worshipped leaders, great and good, who soon turned out to be mass murderers. I was obsessed by the image of the crowd, manipulated like a brainless organism and acting like a brainless organism. I suspected that under the human skull, instincts and emotions overpower the intellect without us being aware of it.” –Magdalena Abakanowicz1
In a career spanning over 50 years, Magdalena Abakanowicz has become internationally known for her treatment of textiles as a sculptural medium and for her powerful portrayals of the human condition. Her first major body of work, a series of monumental woven sculptures she called Abakans, sought the “total obliteration of the utilitarian function of tapestry”2 and demonstrated the capacity of fiber to produce forms that were soft yet structured and complex.
Later work, made from commercially produced materials such as burlap, cotton and gauze, focused on human nature and culture, especially the animalistic behavior of individuals acting en masse. Drawn from the artist’s formative experiences during the Nazi invasion and subsequent Soviet occupation of her native Poland, these groups of figures, often headless, explore the capacity of a crowd to act as a “brainless organism”3 as they follow a leader or a consensus without thought.
Abakanowicz has continued to interrogate the state of humanity in her recent work, producing works in bronze, stone, wood, and iron, and creating larger-scale, sculptural installations, including the Nasher’s Bronze Crowd. She lives and works in Warsaw.
Abakanowicz, Magdalena. Magdalena Abakanowicz: Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago. New York: Abbeville Press, 1982.
Rose, Barbara. Magdalena Abakanowicz. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1994.
Magdalena Abakanowicz Artist Website
1 “Art Museum ‘Big Figures’.” Princeton Weekly Bulletin, September 20, 2004. https://www.princeton.edu/pr/pwb/04/0920/8n.shtml.
2 Magdalena Abakanowicz, Magdalena Abakanowicz: Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago (New York: Abbeville Press, 1982), 48.
3 “Art Museum ‘Big Figures’.”