Life and Work

Magdalena Abakanowicz © Burkard Maus

Magdalena Abakanowicz, born in 1930 in Falenty near Warsaw, Poland, is one of the most important sculptors of the 20th century.

After her studies at the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw and a brief career as a painter, the artist turned to weaving techniques in the 1960s. She experimented with cords, ropes, sisal, sackcloth, and horsehair in order to create idiosyncratic organic three-dimensional objects, which she would then suspend in space. With these »Abakan«, Abakanowicz broke with the tradition of purely decorative, flat presentation and began attracting international attention, which led to solo exhibitions in important European and US-American museums from 1967 onwards.

The biomorphic textile sculptures increasingly developed into material entities with intestine-like interiors, such as in the group of »Heads« and the cycle »Embryology«, culminating in a direct engagement with the human body in the mid-1970s. With new, weatherproof materials, like bronze, iron, stone, and wood, Abakanowicz began to conquer new spaces. She created entire park landscapes, urban squares, and even vineyards, such as the installation from the cycle »Katarsis« in Santomato di Pistoia in Italy. Her forceful human or animal-like sculptures thematize, among other things, the recovery of the individual and simultaneously its dissolution into the crowd as well as the vulnerability of the human body. Despite the initial impression of a conformist and often threatening mass of headless figures in the works »Backs« and »Crowds«, each figure reveals an individual design upon closer inspection. The materials play an important role here. Abakanowicz lends her figures their uniqueness through the broken, moving structures of the material used, providing each with individual characteristics. This conscious selection of materials can is also impressively manifested in installations such as »War Games«. The wood’s structure, created through natural growth, reveals the painful physical scars of war. The bodies in these »War Games«, like »Anasta« and »Sokra«, are still alive despite their injuries. Here again, we can recognize Abakanowicz's question about man's place in nature. On the one hand, »War Games« shows the violence and destructiveness human beings are capable of and on the other hand our vulnerability, creative power, and our awareness of our responsibility to find a place in nature. Her works testify to humanity’s fateful experience over the course of the 20th century, an essential depth from which one cannot escape.

More than 100 solo exhibitions in Europe, North and South America, Japan, South Korea, and Australia testify to Magdalena Abakanowicz's great esteem as a world-renowned artist of our time. Her major works are represented in the collections of numerous international museums including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Jardin du Palais Royal in Paris, and the Tate Gallery of Modern Art in London. Many of her sculptures have been permanently installed in public space, such as the 7 Wheels of Limestone (Negev) in the Sculpture Garden of the Israel Museum in Jerusalem; the bronze dragon heads (Space of Dragon) in Olympia Park in Seoul; the 40 bronze seats (Space of Becalmed Beings) in Hiroshima City Museum of Contemporary Art, Japan; the 112 standing, headless iron creatures (Unrecognized) in Park Cytadela in Poznan; and the sculpture group of 106 striders (Agora) in Grant Park in Chicago, to name but a few.

Magdalena Abakanowicz has received numerous national and international awards and has been a member of several academies of the arts.

The world-renowned artist Magdalena Abakanowicz died in Warsaw in 2017 at the age of 86.

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1930 born in Falenty nearby Warsaw, PL
1950 – 1954 Studies at the Academy of Fine Arts, Warsaw, PL
1955 – 1959 monumental gouaches on cardboard and canvas
1960 – 1969 Development of an own weaving technique with three-dimensional, monumental, soft forms, called »Abakany«
1965 – 1990 Professorship at the State University of Fine Arts, Poznan, PL
1970 – 1979 so-called »alterations« arise, large cycles of figurative and non-figurative sculptures of burlap and synthetic resin; Publication of metaphorical texts that deal with the human condition, the structure of the brain, mythology and religion
1980 – 1989 Realizations in stone, ceramics and wood
1983 Visiting Professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, US
2017 died in Warsaw, PL

Prizes and Awards

1965 Grand Prix der Biennale São Paulo, BR

Solo exhibitions (selection)

1960 Wystawa prac Magdaleny Abakanowicz – Kosmowskiej, Kordegarda, Warsaw, PL

Group exhibitions (selection)

1994 Itinere – Camino e Caminantes, Centro Galego de Arte Contemporanea, Santiago de Compostela, ES



BE Highlights 2020

BE Highlights 2020

  • Artists: Magdalena Abakanowicz, Aljoscha, Herbert Beck, Gehard Demetz, Bertozzi & Casoni, Joachim Brohm, Marc Chagall, Heribert C. Ottersbach, Kwang Young Chun, Lucien Clergue, Piero Dorazio, Gerhard Hoehme, Anselm Kiefer, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Heinz Mack, August Macke, Fausto Melotti, Giorgio Morandi, Edvard Munch, Emil Nolde, Pablo Picasso, Fabrizio Plessi, Rudolf Polanszky, Chris Reinecke, Gerhard Richter, Norbert Tadeusz, Manolo Valdés
    Editor: Michael Beck, Ute Eggeling
    Text: Aljoscha, Michael Beck, Jil Campisi, Ute Eggeling, Andrea Knop, Andrea Krause, Kirsten Nordahl, Katja Ott, Heribert C. Ottersbach, Sebastian Schemann, Miriam Walgate
    Design: Antonia Eggeling
  • English, German
    Softcover, 25 x 21 cm
    120 pages, 92 illustrations
  • Beck & Eggeling Kunstverlag, 2020
    ISBN 978-3-94606324-7
  • 20 €
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Magdalena Abakanowicz. Crowd and Individual

Magdalena Abakanowicz. Crowd and Individual

  • Artist: Magdalena Abakanowicz
    Editor: Ute Eggeling, Michael Beck
    Text: Luca Massimo Barbero, Künstlerzitate ausgewählt und gekürzt von Andrea Knop
    Design: Beck & Eggeling (Martina Löhle)
  • English
    Softcover, 24 x 28 cm
    236 pages, 209 illustrations
  • Beck & Eggeling Kunstverlag, 2015
    ISBN 978-3-93091999-4
  • 35 €
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Further publications


Magdalena Abakanowicz. Crowd and Individual
Catalogue of Exhibitions and Permanent Installations
With a preface by Ute Eggeling & Michael Beck
and essay by Luca Massimo Barbero
Artist statements and reviews abriged and edited by Andrea Knop
Beck & Eggeling Kunstverlag, Düsseldorf 2015
Space to Experience
Beck & Eggeling Kunstverlag, Düsseldorf 2008
Vorwort: Horst Albach, Dirk Elbers, Beat Wismer, Text: Peter Busmann. Giannina Mura, Mariusz Hermansdorfer, Consuelo Císcar Casabán, Magdalena Abakanowicz
Tanzende und Schreitende
Beck & Eggeling Kunstverlag, Düsseldorf 2008
Vorwort: Dr. Ute Eggeling, Michael Beck
Text: Magdalena Abakanowicz, Ryszard Stanislawski


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