Arts and Humanities
Other Names: Marta Abakanowicz
Magdalena Abakanowicz became a successful sculptor in communist Poland and eventually established an international reputation for textile sculptures of the human figure that continued after the fall of communism. She began her artistic career as a painter in the 1950s, first exhibiting her textile work in 1962. By the mid-1970s she had established her most famous art form, headless human figures made from sacking stiffened with glue and resin and fitted over steel frames. Installations of these types of figures were exhibited all over the world. She also produced works in response to the changing political situation in Poland during her lifetime.
While Abakanowicz grew up on her maternal grandfather’s estate in Poland, her childhood was disrupted by the events of the Second World War. The family moved to Warsaw, but was displaced again and separated for two months in the wake of the Warsaw Uprising. Reunited, the family moved to a small town near the Baltic coast. Abakanowicz began her artistic education in Gdynia and later at the College of Fine Arts in Sopot.
In 1950, Abakanowicz changed her name to Magdalena and returned to Warsaw, continuing her artistic training at the Academy of Fine Arts and supporting herself with construction work, blood donation, and teaching sports. She married Jan Kosmowski in 1956 and began to establish connections with the remnants of the prewar avant garde.
Much of Abakanowicz’s work sought to establish a link between art and nature, bringing organic elements into galleries or using conventional media to represent nature. Her most famous work in the United States is Agora, a set of 106 iron figures on display in Grant Park in Chicago.