Magdalena Abakanowicz in Chicago

In Chicago’s Grant Park, work began in November on the installation of an interesting project named “Agora” (from the Greek, “a place of meeting”) by our own Magdalena Abakanowicz. This seems a good time, then, to introduce the artist with a few words here.

Abakanowicz (born June 20, 1930) is one of the most well-known Polish artists throughout the world. For many years, she was one of the main „exports” of Polish culture, representing the country officially on the world stage; she was one of the most often cited artists in promotional materials for Polish art.

Abakanowicz specializes in creating large, figurative, spacial compositions using fabric, stone, wood, and bronze; her compositions have become known as „abakans” from her name. She is a professor at the Academy of Fine Arts in Poznań, where she taught classes from 1965 to 1990. Silhouettes of human figures standing in a certain order are a frequent feature of her work. One example is „Nierozpoznani” (The Unrecognized), permanently installed at the Citadel in Poznań. The Chicago Project “Agora” is similar.

The reasons for interest in this project are several. I admit that I am not an art critic, and I have no such ambitions, but Abakanowicz’s originality and strength, and wise choice of location, are to be admired. Of the many works I could mention, two stand out: „Katarsis” in Italy and „Cor-Ten Armour No. 1”, beautifully located in the exterior gallery of the Marlborough in Zurich. The Chicago „Agora” has already called forth many controversial opinions such as Andrew Herrman’s in the Chicago Sun-Times: „The administration of Grant Park receives many letters from residents of the city. Some of them hate and some of them love the headless, armless figures of Pani Magdalena. None are neutral.” Personally, I think art that calls forth neutral feelings doesn’t have much worth.

The artist herself is inclined to define her work with a short statement that art cannot be defined in words; she suggests interestingly that her installation might recall trees or be used by climbing children. The park administration has not reacted enthusiastically to this idea but does not reject this interpretation.

Also noteworthy is that the value of these 106 „abakans” is around three million dollars, and only $700,000 comes from American sponsors (among others the actor Robin Williams); the rest comes from the Polish government and Polonia’s foundations.

Time will tell whether the headless figures remain permanently in Grant Park,  changing the Chicago landscape, or they simply act as a meeting place for a brief time. Nonetheless, it is terrific that we are able to witness such an artististic event and are able to show it to our children and American friends. There are many excellent artists worthy of recognition whom we should get to know; let’s hope we are able to see their works in the future on a similar scale in our region. We wait patiently now for the presentation of Adam Grant’s work (on January 5th, see article in this issue of the Forum) and the upcoming exhibit of the photographer Janusz Szczotka. As always, we welcome visitors to our museum.

Monika Dedejczyk
Translated by Sean Martin

Forum, 12/2006