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Sculptures by artist Magdalena Abakanowicz featured on New York Avenue
Magdalena Abakanowicz, Walking Figures (group of 10), 2009; Bronze, each approximately 106 ¼ x 35 ⅜ x 55 ⅛ in.; All images © Magdalena Abakanowicz, Courtesy of Marlborough Gallery, New York.

WASHINGTON, DC.- The larger-than-life sculptures by internationally renowned artist Magdalena Abakanowicz (b. 1930) are on view as part of the New York Avenue Sculpture Project, the only public art space featuring changing installations of contemporary works by women artists in Washington, D.C. Organized by the National Museum of Women in the Arts, the New York Avenue Sculpture Project is a collaboration between the museum, the Downtown DC Business Improvement District (BID), the DC Office of Planning and other local agencies. The Sculpture Project illustrates the museum’s long-term commitment to the artistic beautification of New York Avenue, fostering a vibrant new identity for the neighborhood just east of the White House. Located in the median of New York Avenue between 12th and 13th Streets, NW, the installation is on view from Sept. 27, 2014 through Sept. 27, 2015.

The Sculpture Project includes a range of figurative works by Polish artist Abakanowicz. Her monumentally-scaled sculptures of grouped human figures and birds in flight exemplify issues universal to humankind: the power of nature, the force of destruction and the resiliency of hope. Abakanowicz’s art is often inspired by her experiences and observations during World War II and its repressive postwar climate.

“This installation will honor one of the greatest monumental sculptors of our time. Her works’ placement within the capital city of our republic will be compelling,” said NMWA Director Susan Fisher Sterling. “Abakanowicz’s sculptures of figures atop wheel axles relate to her childhood memory of traveling with coins sewn into her clothing while escaping advancing military troops. When viewed in the context of New York Avenue, with drivers and pedestrians moving by, these sculptures will allude more generally to human journeys, both actual and metaphysical.”

Abakanowicz’s best-known outdoor projects include installations in Hiroshima, Jerusalem, Seoul and Chicago.

This Sculpture Project installation is typical of Abakanowicz’s work, in which she often reproduces a motif such as figures, birds or tree trunks in numerous sculptures grouped together. The installation features five artworks comprising 14 individual sculptures. Although each bronze figure and stainless steel bird appears similar to others, every sculpture features distinctive proportions and irregular surface textures, reflecting Abakanowicz’s interest in earthy materials that give her sculptures raw power.

The content of Abakanowicz’s art is often sourced in personal experiences. She suffered deprivation and witnessed violence during World War II. After the war, she endured political oppression in Poland. Yet Abakanowicz describes her art as “fully metaphorical” and representative of forces that shape all human lives. She has been drawn to nature since childhood, when she spent time in the landscape surrounding her home. Her sculptures of birds in flight express her affinity for nature’s rhythms. Walking Figures (2009) echoes the artist’s experience in postwar Poland, where citizens endured long queues for scarce goods. These sculptures allude to inner strength by depicting each figure striding forward. The figures in the group are sculpted without heads, appearing neither male nor female, but evocative of all humankind.

Magdalena Abakanowicz’s work has been featured in more than 150 solo exhibitions in Europe, North and South America, Asia and Australia. Most recently, her art has been presented in the Palacio de Cristal, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid; Instituto Valenciano de Arte Moderno, Valencia; Fondazione Arnaldo Pomodoro, Milan; Tate Modern, London; and Akbank Art Center, Istanbul. Abakanowicz has developed a number of site-specific sculpture installations that incorporate multiple figures rendered at an outsized scale. Among these are installations at the Israel Museum, Jerusalem; Olympic Park, Seoul, South Korea; Europos Parkas, Lithuania; and a sculptural group comprising 106 cast-iron figures in Chicago’s Grant Park.

Abakanowicz studied at the Academy of Fine Arts, Warsaw, Poland, where she lives and works today. She served as professor at the Academy of Fine Arts, Poznan, Poland (1965–90), and visiting professor at the University of California, Los Angeles in 1984. Among numerous awards 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 International Sculpture Center’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2005.

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