In Pictures: The Late Polish Artist Magdalena Abakanowicz’s Monumental Soft Sculptures Stun at Tate Modern

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Visitors to “Magdalena Abakanowicz: Every Tangle of Thread and Rope” at the Tate Modern in London will find themselves dwarfed as they move between vast, free-hanging structures that challenge our traditional notions of sculpture and textile art. 

Their warmly colored, ragged surfaces have been achieved by weaving together organic materials like sisal plant, horsehair, and hemp rope into complex and ambiguous 3D fiber installations known as “Abakans.”

“It is from fiber that all living organisms are built, the tissue of plants, leaves and ourselves,” Abakanowicz once said. “Our nerves, our genetic code, the canals of our veins, our muscles. We are fibrous structures.” 

Audiences will learn how Abakanowicz started out making painted textiles in the 1950s and watch as her practice evolved over the 1960s and ’70s, when she transitioned to building suspended forms on a monumental scale.

Their radical nature is all the more striking for the artist’s distance from many of the major hubs of the art world. Born in 1930, she grew up in the rural Polish countryside and later, during the war, her family became part of the resistance while she worked as a nurse’s aid at the remarkably young age of 14. Afterward, Abakanowicz became an artist under an oppressive Communist regime and struggled against the odds to build an internationally recognized career. 

Abakanowicz is also known today for Agora, a crowded group of headless figures permanently installed in Chicago’s Grant Park, and War Games, large structures made from trees in the style of military equipment. One of the works from this latter series, Anasta (1989), is displayed in the exhibition alongside the Abakans.

“Magdalena Abakanowicz: Every Tangle of Thread and Rope” is on show at Tate Modern until May 21, 2023. See works in the show below.

Installation view of “Magdalena Abakanowicz: Every Tangle of Thread and Rope” is on show at Tate Modern until May 21, 2023. Photo courtesy of Tate Modern.

Installation view of “Magdalena Abakanowicz: Every Tangle of Thread and Rope” is on show at Tate Modern until May 21, 2023. Photo courtesy of Tate Modern.

Installation view of “Magdalena Abakanowicz: Every Tangle of Thread and Rope” is on show at Tate Modern until May 21, 2023. Photo courtesy of Tate Modern.

Installation view of “Magdalena Abakanowicz: Every Tangle of Thread and Rope” is on show at Tate Modern until May 21, 2023. Photo courtesy of Tate Modern.

Installation view of “Magdalena Abakanowicz: Every Tangle of Thread and Rope” is on show at Tate Modern until May 21, 2023. Photo courtesy of Tate Modern.

Installation view of “Magdalena Abakanowicz: Every Tangle of Thread and Rope” is on show at Tate Modern until May 21, 2023. Photo courtesy of Tate Modern.

Magdalena Abakanowicz, Brown Textile 21 (1963). Photo courtesy of Tate Modern; © Fundacja Marty Magdaleny Abakanowicz Kosmowskiej i
Jana Kosmowskiego, Warsaw.

Photograph of Magdalena Abakanowicz at work in 1966. Photo: © Estate of Marek Holzman.

 

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