Magdalena Abakanowicz

Date/place of birth

June 20, 1930, Falenty, Poland

Day/place of death

April 20, 2017, Warsaw, Poland

Magdalena Abakanowicz is not only one of Poland’s most important artists, but one of the most significant sculptors of the 20th century. Her striking work has been shown in over 100 group and solo exhibitions all over the world.

Magdalena Abakanowicz – Through economic constraints to creative heights

Magdalena Abakanowicz was born on 20 June 1930 in Raszyn-Falenty near Warsaw. From Polish nobility, her father belonged to the Lipka-Tartar minority. Her early interest in painting led her at the age of 20 to the art academies in Warsaw and Danzig where she studied from 1949 to 1954, and in addition to painting, Abakanowicz became increasingly interested in creating sculptural art. As a child on the maternal estate, she created her own figures and shapes out of various materials she discovered on her rambles. This gift was of benefit when the precarious economic situation in Poland made it increasingly difficult to acquire the necessary resources for her artistic activities. Abakanowicz reflected on the experiences of her happy childhood and started to create sculptures out of various found objects, some reaching monumental proportions and possessing great expressive power. 

International breakthrough with profound body sculptures

Magdalena Abakanowicz worked as a freelance artist from the mid-1950s and reached international attention the following decade when she presented her expansive woven wall textiles. At the São Paolo Biennale in 1965, she presented her work series Abakan, large sculptures of soft woven forms, where she was awarded the Grand Prix for this creative innovation. That same year, the artist was called to the Poznan Art Academy, where she would teach for 25 years. During this time, Abakanowicz developed her artistic trademark with which she ultimately achieved world fame: heads and whole figures of sackcloth, glue, and resin, animals and birds, sometimes evoking archaic artworks of a long-dead people. Many viewers were irritated, but could not avert their gaze and so helped Abakanowicz to her international breakthrough which was accomplished at the latest in 1980 with her triumphant participation in the Venice Biennale. 

Multiple awards and acclaims by critics and the public

For her Abakan work series – the title naturally derived from her own name - Magdalena Abakanowicz developed a completely new weaving technique. The three-dimensional textile sculptures created with this constantly refined and enhanced technique found their way into the great museums of the world and delighted a large audience. The artist formed her later works out of more robust materials such as concrete, iron, stone or bronze. Despite the apparent similarities between the individual sculptures and work series, each object actually had its own individual features. Magdalena Abakanowicz received prizes and honours for her art, including the Order of Polonia Restituta of her homeland in 1998, and the Order of Merit of the Republic of Italy in 2000. In addition, she belonged to numerous academies in Europe and the USA. The artist used her considerable success in Germany to strengthen German-Polish relations, for which she was presented with the Grand Federal Cross of Merit with Star by the German Ambassador Michael H. Gerdts in 2010. 

Magdalena Abakanowicz died on 20 April 2017 in Warsaw.

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