Since the early 1980s, the Polish artist Magdalena Abakanowicz (b. 1930) has gained worldwide acclaim for her role in the revival of figuration in late-twentieth-century sculpture. Her cycles of headless, hollow, and crude burlap crowds of the mid-1970s and the 1980s, exhibited in major museums across America, Europe, and Asia, are roundly praised for their expressive power and innovative form. In this first scholarly art historical analysis of Abakanowicz's figurative sculpture, Joanna Inglot penetrates the myth of isolation that surrounds and obscures this internationally celebrated artist to disclose the artistic, sociopolitical, and cultural context in which Abakanowicz has lived and worked.
Examining Abakanowicz's representations of the human body from the fiber works of the 1960s known as Abakans through her War Games and outdoor environments of the 1980s and early 1990s, Inglot shows how these works engage the international art scene and the figurative sculpture of postwar Poland, and how they reflect a particular generation's experience of war and communism. With reference to Abakanowicz's use of national symbols and ceremonies drawn from the public and political discourse of the 1970s and 1980s, Inglot explains the complexity of the artist's attitudes toward contemporary politics and the troubled history of her native country. Inglot clearly locates Abakanowicz as a major contemporary sculptor whose works have embodied innovations in style and media and reflected important sociopolitical issues.
1. "Portrait ¥ 20": Memory and Metaphor
2. Abakanowicz’s Artistic Beginnings: The Polish Cultural Milieu from 1945 to 1960
3. Abakans: The Emergence of Expressive Figuration
4. Figures, Environments, and Rituals: Abakanowicz and the Polish Sculptural Discourse of the 1970s and 1980s
5. Myth and the Sacred: Abakanowicz’s Pilgrimage to the Beginning
List of Illustrations
Joanna Inglot is Associate Professor of Art History at the College of St. Catherine in St. Paul, Minnesota.
"An exceptionally intelligent study. Joanna Inglot clearly knows both her subject and the complicated circumstances in Poland that have helped to shape Magdalena Abakanowicz."—Dore Ashton, editor of Twentieth-Century Artists on Art
"This is the first truly independent and in-depth study of the most widely known Polish artist, Magdalena Abakanowicz. Considering Abakanowicz's work in both Polish and international contexts, Inglot provides an invaluable critical assessment of the artist's attainment and the myth that surrounds it. Informed, lucid, and clearly written, this is a key book that changes our understanding of Abakanowicz's work and, more broadly, our perception of Polish art after the Second World War."—Ewa Lajer-Burcharth, Professor of History of Art and Architecture, Harvard University
"Working with non-traditional materials in non-traditional genres and fiercely guarding her autonomy against interpretation, Magdalena Abakanowicz carved her niche as an artist. Joanna Inglot's vivid portrait of her is also an impressive account of Polish tradition, of the innovative artists of postwar Poland, and of Abakanowicz's stature as one of the most powerful figurative sculptors from the 1960s through the present."—Eva Forgacs, author of The Bauhaus Idea and Bauhaus Politics
"This fine example of artistic monograph recasts Abakanowicz's international renown against the intricate background of her Polish roots. By recounting the artist's evolution from textile artist to fiber sculptor within the context of Poland's postwar struggle with issues of contemporary art, this book makes clear that Abakanowicz's work is more closely tied to her Polish heritage than even she would want to admit. Joanna Inglot's sensitive narrative underscores the universal message of Abakanowicz's compelling forms and challenges the longstanding perception that East European art was isolated during the Cold War era."—Myroslava M. Mudrak, author of The New Generation and Artistic Modernism in the Ukraine
"A masterfully executed study that combines the gripping story of Magdalena Abakanowicz's art and life with a thoughtful and precise reconstruction of the political and cultural realities of state socialism that formed the inescapable context of her work. Joanna Inglot illuminates also the intellectual and aesthetic ideas that enabled Abakanowicz to transcend this context and become an international star."—Jan Kubik, author of The Power of Symbols Against the Symbols of Power: The Rise of Solidarity and the Fall of State Socialism in Poland