The book titled “Abakanowicz. Metamorphism” is related to the cross-sectional exhibition of works by Magdalena Abakanowicz, displayed at the Central Museum of Textiles in Łódź in 2017-2018, showing the realisations from the least explored yet simultaneously the most revolutionary period of the artist’s work, falling on the 1960s and 1970s. It is the very first such a major publication that focuses on this period, abundant in a whole range of the Polish artist’s achievements being fundamental constituents to the world of art. The book, just like the exhibition, revolves around courage, vision, and independent thinking. First of all, it is about the process that has led to a change in the way how one perceives artistic fabric and thinks about art.
The editor of the catalogue is Marta Kowalewska – the exhibition curator and the chief curator of the Central Museum of Textiles in Łódź who, for many years, has been conducting research related to formal development apparent in the field of textiles. She was also interested in the issues related to revolutionary transformations and achievements in Abakanowicz’s work. The book is full of important publications drawn up by international experts, thus it presents Magdalena Abakanowicz’s work from the area the medium of textiles in the broad context of post-war art in the world.
Marta Kowalewska focused on the genesis of Abakanowicz’s work, the influence of the professors of the Warsaw Academy of Fine Arts on her artistic development. The text places emphasis on the beginnings of Abakanowicz’s artistic activity and her attempt to annex space. It presents the effect of research on the influence of professors from the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw – Eleonora Plutyńska, and, in particular, Mieczysław Szymański – on Abakanowicz’s further search for a new language of textiles. The problem of annexing space was raised in relation to the three-dimensional nature of woven objects and in the context of exhibitions creating different realities – events such as the performative aspect of bringing the Abakans about to the dunes in Łeba or activities in space at the Edinburgh Festival were important here.
Mary Jane Jacob, a respected American curator, professor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and a long-time friend of the artist, analyses the importance of matter in Abakanowicz’s works. She also contemplates the terminology of a phenomenon that was ahead of its time. The term “installation” became widely used in the 1980s. The terms such as conceptual art, anti-form, and process art were yet to emerge. She also analyses the reasons standing behind the artist’s departure from the medium of fabric and her approach to realisation in bronze and other materials.
Magali Junet, a curator from the Toms Pauli Foundation, introduces the artist’s many years of relations with Switzerland. Those events, so significant in Abakanowicz’s artistic life, are little known. Relationships based on personal and close relations with the commissioner of the Lausanne Biennial, Pierre Pauli, as well as with his wife Alice Pauli, the owner of an important contemporary art gallery. The author of the essay also presents the history of the Biennial of Textiles in Lausanne between 1962-1979 attended by Abakanowicz.
Bruno Ythier, a chief curator of the Joseph Déchelette Museum in Roanne, wrote an interesting article about quite not a popular realisation, the fabric entitled “Construction”. It was made in the workshop of the master weaving, François Tabard in Aubusson, based on the design and model of Abakanowicz. The composition was the result of Magdalena Abakanowicz’s four-month stay under a scholarship organised by the French Government.
Maria das Graças Bueno drew attention to a key event in the career of Magdalena Abakanowicz – awarding Magdalena the Grand Prix at the Biennale in São Paolo in 1965. It was important that a Brazilian researcher, a person with access to the Biennale’s archives, presented this event from an international perspective.
The book also includes a more personal view written by Professor Janis Jefferies, an artist and researcher from Great Britain, who came to Poznań at the turn of 1976 and 1977 to study at the workshop of Dr Magdalena Abakanowicz at the then Academy of Fine Arts. The author presented the Polish realities prevailing during the communist period through the eyes of a young student from the West, as well as her delight with the refinement of contexts and the level of Polish art of that period. She recalls Abakanowicz’s pedagogical methods, presents her works in the broad context of international art.
A valuable documentary material is an interview with Anna Goebel, once a student of the artist, now a professor running the former workshop of Abakanowicz at the University of Arts in Poznań. In the interview, she recalls a multitude of memories about the workshop agenda, the nature of the exercises, but also the vibe prevailing during the classes.
In 2019, Susan Altman organised an interesting exhibition at the Kunsthalle in Dresden, devoted to the work of radical women artists from behind the Iron Curtain entitled “The Medea Insurrection. Radical Women Artists behind the Iron Curtain”. It is an extremely interesting thing to have a look at Abakanowicz’s work from the perspective of women’s activity in the artistic environment of our cultural area. The essay introduces the profiles of avant-garde artists active in the area of “geopolitical peripheries”, while the point of reference is their absence in the book by Piotr Piotrowski, “Avant-garde in the shadow of Yalta. Art in Central and Eastern Europe in 1945-1989”. The progressive, performative, conceptual approach to the medium of fabric is a great example of how the approach to this issue is different to that followed in the West.
The interview with Marysia Lewandowska is an attempt to revise Abakanowicz’s work from the perspective of the latest artistic practices. Lewandowska is a Polish artist who has lived and worked in London since the 1980s. Her interests include working with archives, which was also the subject of her project at the last edition of the Venice Biennale in 2019. In the interview, Lewandowska analyses the reasons for the “abandonment” of fabric by the Abakan artist in favour of bronze sculptures and the influence of new realities in the field of cultural institutions and the art market, changing the contexts of the latest interpretations of Abakanowicz’s work.
Dr Jola Gola has prepared the artist’s biography with particular emphasis on the period covered by the publication.
The book contains finely illustrative material, both archival (courtesy of the Foundation of Marta Magdalena Abakanowicz-Kosmowska and Jan Kosmowski) and contemporary, including a selection of several dozen photos documenting both parts of the exhibition.
All texts are published in Polish and English.
Conceived and edited by: Marta Kowalewska
Copyediting and proofreading of Polish version: Małgorzata Jurkiewicz
Copyediting and proofreading of English version: Richard Reisner, Małgorzata Jurkiewicz, Anna Jurkiewicz
Graphic design and typesetting: Łukasz Paluch, AnoMalia art studio
Photographic documentation of the exhibition: Norbert Piwowarczyk, Marta Kowalewska
Publisher: Central Museum of Textiles in Łódź / Centralne Muzeum Włókiennictwa w Łodzi
Dimensions: 27 x 21 x 4 cm
Language: polish, english