Magdalena Abakanowicz Cause of Death: How the Renowned Polish Sculptor Passed Away

Magdalena Abakanowicz was one of the most influential and internationally acclaimed artists of the 20th century. Her sculptures and installations, often made of textiles, metal, or wood, explored themes of humanity, vulnerability, and the collective experience. She created monumental works that challenged the conventional boundaries of sculpture and art. She passed away on April 20, 2017, at the age of 86. What was the cause of her death and how did she live her remarkable life?

A Noble and Turbulent Childhood

Abakanowicz was born on June 20, 1930, in Falenty, near Warsaw, Poland. She came from a noble landowning family that traced its origins to Abaqa Khan, a 13th-century Mongol chieftain. Her father, Konstanty Abakanowicz, was a Polonized Lipka Tatar who fled Russia after the October Revolution. Her mother, Helena Domaszewska, was a descendant of old Polish nobility.

Abakanowicz’s childhood was marked by the horrors of World War II. When she was nine years old, Nazi Germany invaded and occupied Poland. Her family endured the war years living on the outskirts of Warsaw and became part of the Polish resistance. At the age of 14, she became a nurse’s aid in a Warsaw hospital, witnessing the impact of war firsthand. This experience would later influence her art and her perception of human suffering.

After the war, her family moved to Tczew, near Gdańsk, in northern Poland, where they hoped to start a new life. However, they faced another challenge: the imposition of communist rule in Poland. The new regime adopted socialist realism as the only acceptable art form and censored any other forms of artistic expression.

A Breakthrough in Sculpture and Textile Art

Abakanowicz had a passion for art since she was a child. She studied at the School of Fine Arts in Sopot (now in Gdańsk) from 1949 to 1950 and then at the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw from 1950 to 1954. She initially tried her hand at painting, producing monumental gouache compositions on cardboard and canvas.

However, her first major independent achievement was based on using three-dimensional textiles as a medium. She became intimately associated with soft sculptures known as “Abakans”, which were made from dyed sisal fiber. These large, circular sheets took on animalistic forms under her touch. They looked like mysterious and dangerous creatures that hung from the ceiling or lay on the floor.

Abakans were shocking and revolutionary at the time. They broke with the tradition of flat surfaces of decorative textiles and challenged the conventional notions of sculpture and art. They also reflected Abakanowicz’s interest in the texture and organic nature of matter.

Abakans earned her international recognition and admiration. She exhibited them at the International Biennial of Tapestry in Lausanne in 1964 and won the gold medal at the Sao Paulo Biennial in 1967.

A Quest for Humanity and Identity

In the mid-1970s, Abakanowicz developed another iconic imagery: severed heads and headless bodies, usually made from sacking supported by a steel armature or stiffened with glue and resin. These sculptures were inspired by a variety of sources, such as the silhouettes of Polish worshippers or Indonesian dancers, the photographs of the victims of Auschwitz, or her own memories of war.

These figures expressed Abakanowicz’s fascination with humanity and its fragility. They also explored themes such as identity, individuality, and anonymity. She often arranged them in rows or groups in open spaces, creating a powerful impression of shared experience and collective trauma.

She also experimented with other materials, such as bronze, stone, wood, or metal. She created installations that resembled tree trunks partly encased in metal or ceramic forms that looked like shells or seeds. She also made monumental works that occupied public spaces, such as Agora in Chicago or Birds of Knowledge of Good and Evil in Milwaukee.

A Legacy of Artistic Excellence

Abakanowicz died on April 20/21, 2017 in Warsaw after a long illness. The specific cause of her death was not publicly disclosed. She was survived by her husband Jan Kosmowski, whom she married in 1956.

Abakanowicz left behind a legacy of artistic excellence and innovation that influenced generations of artists around the world. Her works are displayed in many museums and collections worldwide, such as the Museum of Modern Art in New York or the Tate Gallery in London.

She also received numerous awards and honors for her contributions to art and culture, such as the Herder Prize (1979), the Leonardo da Vinci World Award of Arts (1999), or the Order of Polonia Restituta (2005).

Abakanowicz was a visionary artist who challenged the boundaries of sculpture and art. She created works that transcended the conventional sphere of sculpture production and expressed her profound vision of humanity and its condition. She was a master of form, texture, and space, who used her artistic language to communicate with the world. She was a true legend of Polish and global art.

Doms Desk

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