WASHINGTON, D.C. – As you stroll along, or drive on, the 1200 block of New York Avenue, NW here just a few blocks east of the White House, you cannot help but notice an amazing sculpture displayed prominently on the street’s wide, raised and landscaped median strip: Walking Figures (2009), a presentation of 10 headless figures sculpted by internationally acclaimed artist Magdalena Abakanowicz.
Each of the separately shell-cast bronze figures is several feet tall featuring unique bas-relief surfaces resembling rough tree bark, maybe even a much wrinkled face (said one critic), or possibly an exposed network of human anatomy. Whatever your take on it is, Ms. Abakanowicz has employed a clever technique granting individuality to each faceless torso. She also separated the identity of the figures by casting them in varying hues, and sculpting different sizes and shapes for their correspondingly large toed-feet.
In addition to the centerpiece Walking Figures, and anchoring each end of the New York Avenue Sculpture Project – NYASP, are two other works by Abakanowicz: The Second Never Seen Figure On Beam with Wheels (2001), and Stainless Steel Bird on a Pole II (2009) consisting of 3 separate large stylized birds, 1 flying east, 2 flying west. “Abakanowicz’s monumental bronzes represent human figures and her dynamic stainless steel birds in flight exemplify universal issues: the power of nature, the force of destruction and the resiliency of hope” says the National Museum of Women in the Arts statement.
The NYASP is mainly sponsored by the aforementioned and physically juxtaposed National Museum, along with other Washington agencies. It rotates the creations of contemporary women artists on an annual basis. Abakanowicz’s work is the third such art installation to date on the Avenue.
Magdalena Abakanowicz was born in Falenty, Poland (near Warsaw) on June 20, 1930. She attended the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw 1950-54, and is an expressionist extraordinaire working in many diverse mediums that include architecture, painting, sculpture, textiles and clothing over the past 60 years. Her work has been has been featured in over 40 solo exhibits worldwide, and honored with numerous awards.
A short bio posted by the Museum gives us to better understand and much appreciate the artist’s seminal expressionism: “Abakanowicz’s art is affected by her experiences in Poland under Nazi and Soviet occupation during World War II and its aftermath. Although she draws inspiration from her autobiography, her sculptures possess an ambiguity that encourages multiple interpretations, speaking broadly to human experience.”
Magdalena Abakanowicz, now age 85, lives in Warsaw and continues to pursue a passionate affair with her ever-expanding expressionism in the arts.
Text & Photo by Richard Poremski www.polamjournal.com