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Magdalena Abakanowicz's installation of 110 burlap sculptures depicting figures in a crowd is on view in Venice
Magdalena Abakanowicz, Hurma, 1995, Centrum Sztuki Współczesneij Zamek Ujazdowski, Warsaw © Magdalena Abakanowicz.

VENICE.- Magdalena Abakanowicz (Falenty, 1930) is a Polish sculptor who often uses textiles as her principal artistic medium. From 12 April to 2 August 2015, Beck & Eggeling International Fine Art (Düsseldorf) and Sigifredo di Canossa in collaboration with the Fondazione Giorgio Cini are staging the exhibition Magdalena Abakanowicz: Crowd and Individual, curated by Luca Massimo Barbero on the Island of San Giorgio Maggiore. One of her Crowd series, a theme that she has addressed many times in the course of her long career, the giant installation of 110 burlap figures is being given its first showing in Venice.

“Maybe the experience of the crowd, which waits passively in line, but is ready to trample, destroy, or adore on command, like a headless creature, has become the focus of my research. What may also have attracted me to the theme was my fascination with the scale of the human body, or a desire to determine how little is needed to express the whole.” This is how Magdalena Abakanowicz has described her interest in the theme of crowds, a subject that constitutes the most important part of her oeuvre. She has made several Crowds, which vary in the number of figures and the way they are depicted: standing, walking, or sitting. Made of textiles or at times also of other materials, each sculpture is unique and was produced by Abakanowicz in various stages of her artistic career.

“I think that the impact of Magdalena Abakanowicz’s work”, says curator Luca Massimo Barbero, “arises from the way she conveys through a powerful sense of a crowd or group a human condition with an existential meaning in which often faceless people are bewildered bystanders, who find or lose themselves again. Her return to Venice with such a significant installation after the showings of her work at the Biennale (Studio fatturale, 1968; a 22-piece burlap installation entitled Crowd I as part of “Identity and Alterity: a Brief History of the Human Body” in the Italian Pavilion, 1995; Hand-like Trees installed on the Riva degli Schiavoni, 1997; and Embryology in the Polish Pavilion, 1980) may be seen as a homage to a pioneer who has left her mark in the field of experimental sculpture over the last few decades. The theatricality of this group of figures is achieved by placing the visitors and the work on the same level in a mingling of “crowds”, which also has the feel of an extraordinary, tragic human choreography; a game between two sides – humans and statues.”

Abakanowicz’s Crowds have been shown in various installations and configurations all around the world. The travelling Retrospective Exhibition in USA and Canada (1982) was staged in venues such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, the Museum of Fine Arts, Dallas, the Musée d'Art Contemporain, Montréal and the Städel Museum in Frankfurt (1989). In 1991, a large retrospective exhibition was held in Japan, at the Sezon Museum of Art, Tokyo, and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Hiroshima, while her stunning exhibition Hurma was shown at Chapelle Saint-Louis de la Salpêtrière, Paris.

Many groups from the series are permanently displayed outdoors in locations such as the Raymond Nasher Sculpture Garden, Dallas, the Millennium Park, Chicago and Poznan, or in major private collections such as the Foundation Margulies in Miami, and the Giuliano Gori collection, Pistoia, Italy.

Magdalena Abakanowicz (Falenty, 1930) was born into an aristocratic Polish-Russian family in Poland. The war broke out when she was nine years old and she then experienced the revolution imposed by the Russians and forty-five years of Soviet domination. Poland was a politically volatile country in which instability was a permanent state. But she learned to escape to a room of her own, to make the best of things, to use whatever was viable and even to make gigantic works in her tiny studio. Her art has always addressed the problems of dignity and courage. She started with soft, pliable objects that were rough to the touch. Abakanowicz changed the meaning of sculpture from object to be looked at into space to be experienced. Shy by nature, through her solitary creative process she has made contact with people in over one hundred personal exhibitions. Abakanowicz creates ambiguous images with many meanings. Some are concealed, some are combined with others. They are what every viewer must find for him or herself. (, Artur Starewicz).

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