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Magdalena Abakanowicz: Allegories of Time
by Robert C. Morgan


Magdalena Abakanowicz’s recent sculpture reveals a type of allegorical theater. Her well-known Walking Figures project an ironic expressive content while retaining a formal rigor. Paradoxically, these massive sculptural figurations imply a quiet anonymity. Headless and armless, the inscrutably vital, masculine figures mostly stand upright, modeled in a strident pose. They suggest a kind of eerie suspension, as if caught in the interstices between an ineluctable humanism and a post-apocalyptic nightmare. In either case, their humanoid forms reveal a certain visual tension, a state of forceful indeterminacy. Simultaneously present and absent, Abakanowicz’s figures push defiantly onward, like the characters in Beckett’s absurdist play, Waiting for Godot (1953). Despite the assertions of Vladimir and Estragon, who vacillate on whether to act or not, their motives remain essentially without any significance or preordained meaning. They exist only for what they are: victims in time and space. In contrast to Beckett’s characters, Abakanowicz’s sculptures do not perform. They are strictly material presences. Yet through the artist’s ability to transform materials, the potential emerges for her sculptures to be seen in terms of allegory. They are constructed and positioned in ways that invite participation. Through these configurations, the powerful, abstract presentness of the figures escapes the banal circumstances of our everyday techno-rituals, thereby allowing us to reflect on them as a form of absence, that is, in terms of what we are and of what they are not.

From the Anatomy Cycle: Anatomy 18, 2009.
Burlap, wood, and steel, 121.92 x 69.85 x 29.21 cm.

Photo: © Magdalena Abakanowicz, Courtesy Marlborough Gallery, NY

 


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