May 7th 2015

Magdalena Abakanowicz


106 cast iron figures

Site specific installation at Grant Park, Michigan Ave at East Randolph, Chicago


I first encountered the work of Magdalena Abakanowizc on a visit to England last summer. Wandering around Yorkshire Sculpture Park, I chanced upon her installation piece 10 Seated Figures and have been a fan ever since. Her gigantic partial figures share a commonality  of form yet each has a unique individual identity.

Agora is a site specific installation commissioned by the City of Chicago for Grant Park which is located at the SW corner of Millennium Park in downtown Chicago. 106 cast iron headless figures are placed in a seemingly haphazard arrangement against a backdrop of Michigan Ave skyscrapers. However, as you approach their placement reveals a new subtext and order. On concrete slabs divided into two distinct sections, walking through the giant figures gives a feeling of oppressive claustrophobia at one end and air and freedom at the other. The skin surface of cast iron is hand sculpted, leaving impressions of scars, crevices and underlying anatomy. The figures are dark, dense and their highly textural surface is enhanced by the weathering of the cast iron which encourages tactile exploration of the work.

The close proximity of the figures at the southern end of the installation evoke a crushing feeling of anxiety and threat, yet there is also a safety within the group. Apart from six figures which are arranged in a small circle, no figure directly faces or engages with any other. Some are remote from the group and seem to wander aimlessly whilst others appear more purposeful as though hopefully intent on reaching some unknown destination.

In contrast the headless forms at the opposing end of the site are arranged in a nonlinear but semi structured way. Here the figures appear as individuals – relaxed and free to move about and interact with each other. In this sense Agora could be viewed either as two distinct works or a singular entity. How these groups related added an extra dimension of intrigue for me which I felt was in some way a reference to people either imprisoned or confined in overcrowded spaces and seeking freedom through escape.

One of the wonderful aspects of visiting Agora is experiencing the context of its placement in a densely populated area. I saw people cutting through the sculptures to reach the other side of the park, walking their pets between the rows (heaven for dogs desperate for a wee), skateboarders, and a group of yoga students on the surrounding grass as well as tourists visiting the site because “the guide book said it will give us a good picture”. Which amongst many other things, it certainly does.

March 25th 2015

Emma Kelly on CBC news!

Emma Kelly on CBC news!