artist / participant
Magdalena Abakanowicz (Falenty, Poland, 1930) has built an entire universe inhabited by groups and multitudes of human figures, body fragments, trees and seeds, which occupy a terrain between reality and fantasy. This imaginary space makes room for mythical reminiscence, literary characters, recollection from her childhood, the experience of a country devastated by war and its endurance living under the totalitarian regime in the former Soviet block. Together they form a compendium of images that the artist channels into a work charged with mystery and energy.
Her artistic language is characterized by monumentality, a fascination for nature and a spatial approach in her sculptures that construct a powerful staging effect by grouping them together in one creation in a specific place. In the mid-1960s, she received great recognition at the 7th Bienal de Sao Paulo with her work Abakans, a title derived from her last name, which the artist used to call enormous “tapestries”—at once, three-dimensional, biomorphic and abstract—displayed together with an enigmatic, totemic forest. In them, she transforms the idea of a flat tapestry into a form capable of organizing space from an entirely sculptural concept. In Ropes (1970), the artist would develop this idea even further, moving beyond formal limits, by deconstructing and expanding on textile materials in space, intertwining them like muscles attempting to release their energy. This interest for organic and biological worlds would become fully fledged in Alterations, her next work, unfolded in a group series—“Heads,” “Seated Figures,” “Backs,” “Embryology”—in which she eliminates all extraneous features with an evident, formal aesthetic so that the viewer focuses on the exterior surface giving shape to a body and an extensive, differentiated epidermis where traces of the human condition emerge.
From textiles, she moved on to explore the possibilities of bronze, wood and stainless steel, harder and more lasting materials. In the mid-1980s, she presented Catharsis, a composition of thirty-three giant, outdoor figures, with which would inaugurate a series of monumental projections in open spaces. As well as exhibiting a markedly organic character, Abakanowicz’s work has a vocation for transgressing formal features and occupying “a space for experience.” Her installations are inhabited by multitudes of bodies, bronze and wood figures, the heads of men, animals and dragons, trees that become confused with hands and human torsos. The variety of multiplied, albeit distinct figures composing these multitudes reveals a tension between the individual and society, identity and anonymity, desire and reality.
In this exhibition, titled King Arthur’s Court, Abakanowicz brings together under one tent a group of works representative of her long career, such as “Embryology” and “Bambini,” as well as new pieces shown in public for the first time. Together, they share a common space, protected and isolated from the outside world by a tent that the artist has created especially for the Palacio de Cristal’s interior.
“Embryology” belongs to the series Alterations, which she began to develop in the 1970s. The simplicity of forms in its many seeds created in steel seems to drift towards abstraction, a feature that is repeated in “Bambini” with disfigured bodies that resemble a cross between a human torso and a tree, emptied and apparently devoid of individuality. There is a link between these works and the knights of the roundtable: the vitality of these schematic constructions in stainless steel appears on their surface, in the traces left from welding, like scars that draw history onto the body. In El Retiro Park’s Palacio de Cristal, these figures turn into a mythical narrative of metallic artifacts and nature.
Myth and fantasy are recurring themes in Abakanowicz’s work. The legend of King Arthur furthermore allows her to speak of lost values in a world where military force is used immorally to defend strategic positions. However, the legend’s “Knights” are guided by principles, ethics and dignity. In this project, the “Knights” share their space with the “Bambini” and with embryonic forms—“Embryology”—as the metaphorical image of visions that are produced between objective reality and unspeakable dreams.
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King Arthur’s Court