AGORA: CONNECTING BEAUTY, CULTURE AND INDIVIDUALITY
20 February 2018
Take a short stroll down to Michigan Avenue & Roosevelt Road and you will come upon an army of larger-than-life headless bronze statues. Although these giant sets of legs look to be caught in motion, they actually form Agora, a permanent installation by Polish artist, Magdalena Abakanowicz. Installed on November 16, 2006, Agora cost $3 million to fabricate and install, and was fully funded by the Polish Ministry of Culture and donations from private foundations. The public commission was part of the celebration of Chicago and Warsaw’s Sister City status.
Agora is one of 31 sculptural installations that populate Grant Park,[i] enriching our understanding of how the culture of Chicago is inextricably linked to a cosmopolitan sense of the world. Located directly across Michigan Avenue from 1000M, Agora is just one of the amazing sights in Grant Park, enhancing this wonderful stretch of the park to stroll among giants of nature, culture, art and history.
AGORA IS NOTHING TO FEAR
What makes this work by Abakanowicz so thought provoking is its ability to blend the terror and shock that come from these cast iron limbs being so massive with the sense of peace and calm channeled through the rest of Grant Park’s pristine landscape and location. Agora’s form becomes especially poignant as it lives among other monuments including Buckingham Fountain and Spirit of Music.
There are a total of 106 pairs of legs in Agora, together and individually hovering between identical copies and unique personalities. Each figure was articulated and built from hollow iron, containing its unique set of lines, gestures and textures, subtly differentiating one from the next. As Abakanowicz explained, “I’ve lived in times which were extraordinary by their various forms of collective hate and collective adulation. Marches and parades worshipped leaders, great and good, who soon turned to be mass murderers. I was obsessed by the image of the crowd. I suspected that under the human skull, instincts and emotions overpower the intellect without us being aware of it… Every crowd is like a headless organism.”[ii] Historically informed by Abakanowicz’s experiences in the former Soviet Union, Agora is a serious work of art that challenges notions of what it means to be an individual who is also part of the crowd. At the same time, without being aware of its larger context, any passer-by is struck by Agora’s beauty and grandeur.
THE LEGACY LIVES ON
Magdalena Abakanowicz (1930 – 2017) passed away in lte 2017 at the age of 86.[iii] She first came to prominence during the 1970’s when she abandoned painting to begin constructing headless figures made of burlap and resin that she referred to as Abakans.[iv] Her early pieces opened up the use of materials that were previous considered untenable in sculpture, and expanded the understanding of sculpture beyond a single autonomous object. She rose to a level of international recognition at a time when many Polish citizens were trapped in their country and few Americans knew anything about Polish art.
Today Abakanowicz’s career is greatly celebrated and Agora continues as a meeting place for those who wish to think outside the box and seek beauty.
[iii] Magdalena Abakanowicz, Polish artist behind headless sculptures in Grant Park, dies at age 86, reproduction of Chicago Tribune article dated April 21st, 2017 by Associated Press