Thursday, August 22, 2013


Agora, 2005-2006
Magdalena Abakanowicz
Southwest corner of Grant Park
South Michigan Avenue and Roosevelt Road

            Born in Poland in 1930 to aristocratic Polish-Russian parents, Magdalena Abakanowicz endured Nazi occupation during World War II and then decades of Soviet domination. Many of her pieces reflect issues of individual dignity and the will to survive, and “the crowd” is a recurring motif. For example, she is interested in the transformation of the individual into a cog as well as the idea of “the countless.” She states, “A crowd of people or birds, insects or leaves, is a mysterious assemblage of variants of a certain prototype, a riddle of nature abhorrent to exact repetition or inability to produce it, much as a human hand cannot repeats its own gesture.”
            The word “agora,” meaning a large meeting place in a city, is the title given to this gathering of 106 headless, armless, 9-foot tall iron figures on the southern edge of Grant Park. The textured, rust-colored finish suggests the bark of a tree or wet, clinging drapery. Each figure weighs approximately 1800 pounds and each was hand-molded by the artist. She traveled to Chicago to position the figures before they were bolted to the concrete base. Described as “spooky,” “ugly,” “claustrophobic,” but also “powerful,” public appreciation of Abakanowicz’s piece will likely follow the pattern of many other large scale works of sculpture in Chicago: initial resistance followed by acceptance and, eventually, the adoption of the work as one of many visual symbols associated with the city.  

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