Magdalena Abakanowicz: Writings and Conversations
Polish sculptor Magdalena Abakanowicz was a “force of gravity,” wrote art historian Barbara Rose in 1984. Indeed, and we feel it as she lays out her mission: from early ruptures with tapestry tradition, to the invention of her signature woven work—Abakans— to those of human form, to public projects responsive to the history and particularities of place, to her vision for an Arboreal Architecture sympathetic to living in concert with the earth and kind to the climate.
This first compendium of the artist’s writings throughout her career demonstrates her need to communicate beyond her Warsaw studio with spirited vitality and urgency. It serves as a companion to her profoundly moving autobiography Fate and Art (Skira second edition, 2020), whose first iteration we find here, “Portrait x 20” begun in 1978. Included, too, from that same year, is a little-known lecture to artists assembled for a conference in the Bay Area. She speaks intimately of the aesthetic and social agenda that drove her making: “It is only with friends that I discuss problems that I have and to which I attach importance. I have come to discuss them with you.”
And here is her prose poem, “Soft,” of 1979 that anticipated her entry for the Polish Pavilion in the 1980 Venice Biennale, catapulting her onto the international scene. Ten interviews span 30 years, including Rose’s never-before-published conversation conducted from the late ’80s to early ’90s. With correspondence among twenty persons formative in her career—and she in their lives—this volume will be an essential sourcebook for scholars. Yet by bringing archives to life, this book will prove a fascinating read for others in and out of the art world, able to enter into the soul of an artist so perceptive of her times and so capable of marshaling the power of art to speak of wider human concerns. This is evoked in the introductory essay by historian Joanna Bourke whose reflection helps bring forward the meaning of Abakanowicz’s art today.
Mary Jane Jacob is a curator, professor, and Director of the Institute for Curatorial Research and Practice at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Jenny Dally is Curatorial Assistant of Prints and Drawings at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.