Magdalena Abakanowicz is born in Falenty near Warsaw in 1930. After studying at the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw she becomes a professor at the School of Fine Arts in Posen (1965 — 1990). Typical material for her work in arts and crafts and handcraft traditions is derived from women’s work in her immediate environment.
After her first phase of work in painting, Abakanowicz devotes herself in particular to tapestry design and weaving techniques, from which she derives aesthetic models for sculptural works. In the monumental execution of these pieces that are woven in a highly individualistic manner, she succeedes in making a decisive artistic innovation, whose compositional austerity is influenced by the Polish constructivist Henryk Stazewski. The fabrics first created on the weaving loom are made from coarse fibered material such as gunnysack linen, sisal hemp, horsehair – tangible materials that take on haptic, body- like quality through their dynamic and loose surface structure. In a next step, these creations are then transformed into three-dimensional objects that appear organic through their even bulges. The artist exhibits these works in hanging Installations since the mid 1960s in monumental environments up to three meters high that are entitled Abakan (Red Abakan, 1969).
The next work group of textile sculptures, Garments, elaborates these references to body language, by taking giant opened coat forms, suggesting the corporeal presence or absence of giant human forms (Black Garments 1969/74). Abakanowicz’ works are created during a period in which Arte Povera, as well as Joseph Beuys and the American Eva Hesse are making similar experiments with the traditional working of simple natural materials with a robust aesthetic high-handedness.
Already since 1967 Abakanowicz is represented with individual shows and in central European and US American museums (including Oslo, Eindhoven, Mannheim, Stockholm, Düsseldorf, Sydney, London, Paris, Chicago) although her own travels were curbed for some time for political reasons.
Her work with soft materials develops into the works Heads (1973/75) and Embryology (1978/81), which suggest biomorphic oval shapes and ball structures similar to developmental forms of the human body. Here the differences between various works play a special role. From behind tattered rough fabric coverings, inner structures resembling entrails become visible. With Backs (1976/82) Abakanowicz stages for the first time objects resembling capsule-like human back torsos that are linked directly to the tradition of sculpture and the presentation of the human body. She creates similar body-like fabric covers in the group work Incarnations(since 1986), where forms are taken from the faces of animals and people, made partly in bronze and partly in jute.
Since 1985 Abakanowicz has created Installations situated in public spaces. She refers back preferably to permanent materials as with the cycle Katharsis (1985), consisting of 33 bronze figures of ca. 3 meters height that are exhibited close to a a vineyard. This work is continued in the 1990s, in which her sculptural cycles were increasingly integrated in the nature-space of cultural landscapes. Here she is interested in the ambigous interpretation of these objects as natural, vegetative or anthropomorphic works, which she calls »figures of man-trees, man coffins« (Negev, 1987; Space of Dragon, 1988, u.a.). In Installations such as War Games (1989), she returns with new intensity to the interpretation of traditional sculpture materials, especially to wood. She lays bare their growth and aging patterns like scar tissue. In her more recent public commissioned works, she has been interested in the forming of vegetation, especially trees and their constructive patterns (Arboreal Architecture, 1991; Handlike Trees, 1992). Magdalena Abakanowicz lives and works in Warsaw.
Inglot, Joanna: The figurative sculpture of Magdalena Abakanowicz. Bodies, environments, and myths, Berkeley u.a. 2004
Verteidigung der Moderne. Positionen der polnischen Kunst nach 1945, Magdalena Abakanowicz, Jerzy Berés, Tomasz Ciecierski, Leon Tarasewicz u.a.: Ausst.-Kat. Museum Würth hg. v. C. Sylvia Weber, Künzelsau 2000
Rose, Barbara: Magdalena Abakanowicz, New York 1994
Magdalena Abakanowicz. Skulpturen 1967 — 1989: Ausst.-Kat. Städt. Galerie im Städelschen Kunstinstitut, hg.v. Klaus Gallwitz, Frankfurt/M. 1989