Magdalena Abakanowicz at Tate Modern

28 January 2020

Agora by Magdalena Abakanowicz in Grant Park.
Agora by Magdalena Abakanowicz in Grant Park.


At 1000M, you don’t have to go far to seek beauty. Just across the street, Grant Park is home to one of Chicago’s most memorable art installations, Agora. These larger-than-life headless bronze statues, created by acclaimed Polish artist Magdalena Abakanowicz, are just one of many iconic pieces made throughout the artist’s lifetime. 

In celebration of Abakanowicz’s work, the Tate Modern is hosting a major retrospective, on display this summer from June 17 to September 13. The exhibit is an illuminating exploration of the artist’s renowned woven sculptures, alongside contextualizing wooden sculptures and lesser known drawings. 


Abakanowicz and her Abakans at Tate Modern

Abakanowicz named these impressive woven sculptures ‘Abakans.’ The hanging Abakans, averaging 15 feet tall and five feet-wide, are hand-woven and hand-dyed by the artist. The exhibit will feature between 15 and 20 total Abakans, an impressive number given the fact that there are only 30 total in existence. 

These sculptures feel at once alien and deeply personal. Ann Coxon, the exhibit’s curator, describes the impact of Abakanowicz’s work: “Magdalena’s works are ambiguous and highly evocative and all the more powerful for not being literal depictions of actual people or things. They evoke humankind in general, humankind in its entirety.” 


The Godmother of Installation Art

Magdalena Abakanowicz was born in 1930 to a Polish aristocratic family. She began working in the field of weaving and textiles because, as a woman, it was the socially accepted way of making. This shoe-horned experience turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as it freed Abakanowicz from the oppressively traditional state-approved painting style, Socialist Realism. Abakanowicz became one of the most influential artists of the 20th century, recognized for her experimental plays with fabric and sculpture. 

Coxon describes Abakanowicz’s groundbreaking art practice: “She was a pioneer of what we now call ‘installation art’…. What she was creating, above all, were experiential environments…. Her pieces create a reaction not just because of what they are, but because of where they are.” Because of her exploratory work in the field, Abakanowicz is considered “the godmother of installation art.” 

The artist exhibits a powerful past and ongoing influence, ensuring that the Tate Modern’s major retrospective is a must-see. For local Chicagoans, viewing Abakanowicz’s work is as simple as a trip to Grant Park.