Magdalena Abakanowicz (pronounced aba-ka-No-vich) was born June 20, 1930 in Falenty, Poland. At the age of nine, when Nazi Germany invaded and occupied Poland, her family moved to the outskirts of Warsaw and lived there for the remainder of the war.
She attended the Academy of Fine Arts, Warsaw, the leading art school in Poland, from 1950 – 1954, during some of the harshest crackdown on art by the Soviet Union. Influenced by limited space and materials in communist era Poland, she used textiles to create her early sculptures called Abakans, which are thick, nearly rigid sculptures made with scavenged sisal ropes that were untwined, washed and dyed. "I could roll them up and put them under the bed or in the attics of my friends or in their basements," she said.
During the 1970s, and into the 1980s, Abakanowicz changed medium and scale, creating huge figurative and non-figurative sculptures called Alterations, which were made out of burlap and resins. In the late 1980s to 1990s, Abakanowicz began to use metals, such as bronze, for her sculptures, as well as wood, stone, and clay. One of her most recent works is Agora, which is a large permanent monument consisting of 106 cast-iron figures, each around 9 feet tall, in Chicago Grant Park, Chicago, Illinois.
The power of Abakanowicz’s art comes from its timeless presence, its ability to invoke deep feeling and the artist’s unique use of figurative forms as the embodiment of a visionary philosophy. As stated by Marlborough Gallery, Abakanowicz’s figures are “all unique, as the intricately rippled surfaces differ on each, imparting individuality. Viewed from behind, the skin-like texture gives way to a smooth, concave surface, reminiscent of an empty husk. Yet, each figure is individually different with specific details of skin. They are organic, with the imprint of the artist's fingers.”
Abakanowicz has had over 150 solo exhibitions in Europe, North and South America, Japan, South Korea, and Australia. She has had major shows at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Jardins du Palais Royal in Paris and the Muzeum Narodowe in Poznan. Among numerous prizes and distinctions, Abakanowicz has received seven honorary doctorates from universities in Europe and the United States as well as the Commandeur de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres from France. She was also awarded the prestigious International Sculpture Center’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2005.