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Every tangle counts!

Every tangle counts!

Magdalena Abakanowicz (1930-2017) is considered one of the most outstanding artists of the 20th century and is often titled an ambassador of Polish contemporary art. After graduating from the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw, her first solo exhibitions went almost unnoticed. It was not until her participation in the International Biennale of Textiles in Lausanne in 1962, that she achieved great success that paved her way to a worldwide career.

To a wider audience Abakanowicz is known primarily for her sculptural works, especially the monumental fabric compositions she created from the early 1960s onwards, which were called ‘abakans’ after her name. Their novelty lay in the then very unconventional use of traditional materials – felt, cotton, silk, and horsehair.

Throughout her life, the artist was most interested in and inspired by the humans as physical beings, organically connected to nature, but also entangled in history and culture, and her choice of material was dictated by the desire for artistic independence. Fabrics had never before been used in sculpture, so it offered great opportunities for experimentation and creating one’s own reality. Abakanowicz consistently denied opinions that she was a feminist artist, although many critics viewed her in this way since her work involved fabrics and weaving, traditionally regarded as culturally feminine areas.

It is worth mentioning that Abakanowicz was a very versatile artist with a touch of visionary. In 1991, she won an international competition organised by the Paris authorities to develop the Grande Axe complex in the modern Parisian district of La Défense. At the time, she proposed arboreal architecture – buildings reminiscent of tree structures, with façades covered in living greenery, keeping in mind man’s relationship with nature and ecology. The project was alas ultimately not realised, and similar solutions appeared in the world’s metropolises only about two decades later.

Her works can be currently viewed at the Tate Modern gallery in London, where an exhibition, ABAKANOWICZ. EVERY TANGLE OF THREAD AND ROPE (17.11.22 – 21.05.23) dedicated to her is now on show. This is a great honour, as the Tate Modern has for years been at the forefront of the world’s most prestigious cultural institutions for contemporary art. The London exhibition illustrates a period in the artist’s career in which her works slowly moved away from two-dimensional form and flat display on walls, taking their place in three-dimensional space by being suspended from the ceiling. It also houses earlier natural fibre works and less frequently shown sketches. Art critics worldwide agree that Abakanowicz’s experiments opened a new chapter in the history of sculpture. The sculptures at Tate Modern surprise the viewer with their uneven textures, light reflections, and a sense of warmth, while their organic forms foster the illusion that the objects on display live a life of their own. The fibres still have their unique scent, which enhances the sensuality in the perception of the exhibition.

Magdalena Abakanowicz’s works are now found both in private and in museum collections, achieving increasingly high prices at art auction. In the Netherlands, they have mainly been exhibited at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam. The museum owns in their collection her sculpture entitled Black Dress (1968). In 2018,  after the artist’s death, Marjan Boot, an art historian, conservator and curator of many exhibitions at the Stedelijk, published an extensive article LIKE A FLAMING COMET: THE RISE OF MAGDALENA ABAKANOWICZ IN THE NETHERLANDS. Art critics emphasize that Abakanowicz’s artistic legacy will remain the subject of analysis and studies for many years to come. The exhibition at Tate Modern confirms these opinions and offers a wonderful opportunity for direct contact and personal conversation with the abakans.

Monika Gimblett