|Davidson Presents Rare Opportunity to the Art World with Exhibition of Noted Polish Sculptor's Work
January 11, 2010
Contact: Bill Giduz
The art world will focus on Davidson during the next five weeks as the Van Every/Smith Galleries mount one of the college's most ambitious exhibitions ever.
|Olympic (Figures with Open Arms), 2007, burlap, resin, and wood, 64 5/8 x 68 7/8 x 15 3/8 in. (164 x 175 x 39 cm). Image courtesy of the artist and Richard Gray Gallery.
From January 15 to February 26 Davidson will host the work of contemporary Polish sculptor Magdalena Abakanowicz, one of the most influential artists of the last 50 years.
"She's certainly the most important female artist of her generation," said Professor of Art Cort Savage, whose specialty is sculpture. "She brought fiber arts into the mainstream of sculpture, and brought the human figure back to art in the 1970s when it was emerging from minimalism."
The exhibition will be initiated on Thursday evening, Jan. 14, with a talk about Abakanowicz and her work by Joseph A. Becherer, founding director and curator of the sculpture program at Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park in Grand Rapids, Mich. He also serves as professor of art history at Aquinas College, and has worked on several major exhibitions of Abakanowicz's work.
There is no charge to attend the talk, which will begin at 7 p.m. in the Belk Visual Arts Center. A reception will follow Becherer's talk.
This exhibition at Davidson brings together important works that focus on the themes of humans and nature from Abakanowicz's last two decades of production. The exhibition includes 19 distinct works comprised of 58 objects.
There are three works in burlap created in 2007 that have never previously been exhibited, as well as castings in bronze and other metals. There are headless human figures and figures of animal heads with no bodies.
Abakanowicz's works have long been exhibited and collected by the world's most prestigious museums and institutions. She has received a half-dozen honorary degrees from colleges and universities around the world, including the Royal College of Art in London and the Academy of Fine Arts in Lodz, Poland. She has won many artistic prizes and awards, including the Award of International Sculpture Center for Life Achievements, and the Visionaries Award from the American Craft Museum in New York.
|Bambini, 1998-99, bronze, 40 Figures, approximately 43 x 15 x 10 in. each (109 x 38 x 20 cm. each). Image courtesy of the artist and Marlborough Gallery, New York. Photography by Raymond Grubb.
The exhibition will be accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue. It includes poetic texts about each piece written by the artist herself, as well as an essay by Davidson Professor of English Alan Michael Parker, director of the creative writing program.
Several Davidson professors plan to visit and study the exhibition with their classes, and Becherer will present a special gallery talk for art students from Davidson and UNC-Charlotte during an afternoon session on January 14.
Gallery Director Brad Thomas, who organized the exhibition and publication, said it's one of the most important efforts of his 10-year tenure at Davidson. A series of generous opportunities made it possible.
Thomas was introduced to Abakanowicz's work in 1993 at P.S.1, an important center for contemporary art in Long Island City. The exhibition made a profound impression on him, and he has wanted to work with her for many years. As his curatorial ambitions began to broaden, Thomas recognized the value in presenting an exhibition of iconic works by this groundbreaking artist for Davidson and the region. Furthermore, the college's commitment to campus sculpture as a source for learning provided assurance that the exhibition would strengthen the program's educational mission.
Born in 1930 in Poland, Abakanowicz and her family endured the German invasion during World War II on the outskirts of Warsaw. After the war she attended the Gdansk Academy of Fine Arts and Poland's Academy of Fine Arts, at a time when they were forced to follow strict guidelines and limitations that subordinated the arts to the demands of the state.
Beginning in 1956 she created her earliest extant works - watercolors on paper of imaginary plants, birds, fish and seashells. She gained international attention during the 1960s when she began creating large three-dimensional fiber works called "Abakans," which she hung from the ceiling a few inches off the floor. In 1962, one of her Abakans created a sensation at the First International Biennial of Tapestry in Lausanne.
It was acclaimed as a work that changed the centuries-old craft of hand weaving from two-dimensional tapestry to three-dimensional sculpture. Three years later, she won a gold medal for a similar fiber sculpture at the Sao Paulo Bienal in Brazil. Embraced in the late 1960s by the rapidly expanding crafts movement as the most innovative expressions of fiber art, the Abakans - and the burlap and resin figures that followed - were accepted as important contemporary sculpture in museums and galleries the world over.
In the mid-1970s her work took a dramatic turn, as she began to create heads, figures, animals, and birds made of sisal, burlap, glue, and resin formed over plaster casts. These have characterized her oeuvre ever since.
Abakonowicz groups humanoid figures in her work to represent confusion and anonymity, and demonstrate the individual's relationship to the mass of humanity. They are a cautionary expression of her unease about crowds. She once said, "I'm frightened by crowds of people, birds or even insects swarming in great masses. People in an airport, people on a metro or on a tram, can seem threatening, horrible, a brainless entity. Today we are pushed by quantity in general. I create these crowds of figures as a warning: they're saying we are so many."
Abakanowicz's most recent work has included a project called Agora, which is a permanent project installed in Chicago's Grant Park in late 2006. It consists of 106 monumental, cast iron figures, each about nine feet tall. The surface of each figure resembles a tree bark or wrinkled skin. All the figures are similar in shape, but different in details.
|Magdalena Abakanowicz pictured with Uccello I, Uccello IV, and Uccello VI on the occasion of her solo exhibition in the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Roof Garden at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York,1999. Image courtesy of Marlborough Gallery, New York.
In his essay in the exhibition catalogue, Professor Parker notes that Abakanowicz's work insightfully reflects the human condition. He wrote, "We have been her ‘Backs' and ‘Bambini' and ‘Standing Figures' and ‘Walking Figures.'"
Parker continues, "Inevitably social, the human animal likes to belong. Whether we see ourselves as distinct from the crowds in which we move and mingle, we are subject at all times to historical forces greater than what we can know, ground into the present, grounded by our experiences. But what we can imagine - that is another story, even literally so. In our imaginations, we belong to the beyond. There we aspire to the other; there we hope to join with some thing or some one beyond what we know. My sense is that moving within and among a grouping of sculptures by Magdalena Abakanowicz, we come close to moving purely within our imaginations, in our bodies and beyond them as well."
The exhibition will continue through February 26, and is open weekdays 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and weekends noon to 4 p.m. The galleries will be closed on January 18 in observance of the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday. For more information, call 704-894-2344.
The exhibition and catalogue are supported by The Wachovia Wells Fargo Foundation, Davidson College Friends of the Arts, and The Herb Jackson and Laura Grosch Gallery Endowment. The public lecture is supported by Davidson's Dean Rusk International Studies Program and Public Lectures Committee. Abakanowicz, Marlborough Gallery in New York and Richard Gray Gallery in Chicago were also instrumental in producing the exhibition.
Davidson is a highly selective independent liberal arts college for 1,800 students located 20 minutes north of Charlotte in Davidson, N.C. Since its establishment in 1837 by Presbyterians, the college has graduated 23 Rhodes Scholars and is consistently regarded as one of the top liberal arts colleges in the country. Through The Davidson Trust, the college became the first liberal arts institution in the nation to replace loans with grants in all financial aid packages, giving all students the opportunity to graduate debt-free. Davidson competes in NCAA athletics at the Division I level, and a longstanding Honor Code is central to student life at the college.