Magdalena Abakanowicz’s Haunting Imagery Sets New Record in Polswiss Art’s December Auction

Deepa Shrestha
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Turning pain into something powerful is the goal of Magdalena Abakanowicz’s sculptures. Her haunting installations have long headlined notable auctions. Two installations from the Polish sculptor were available in a recent Polswiss Art sale on December 7, 2021. One of her installations set a new record for the most expensive work of art ever sold in Poland. Auction Daily looks back at Magdalena Abakanowicz’s life and works to understand and perhaps pay homage to the sculpting genius.

Born into Polish nobility, Magdalena Abakanowicz had a comfortable childhood. However, Abakanowicz lost that stability when Nazi troops invaded Poland. She was a young witness to brutal, life-changing events. Her mother was killed, and the war tore her homeland apart. Abakanowicz grew up among the resistance in Warsaw, became a nurse’s aid, and finally got a chance to pursue art. But that too was controlled and heavily censored by the Polish government. Abakanowicz challenged the confining rules laid out for her, which led to her becoming one of the most celebrated sculptors the world has ever seen.

Magdalena Abakanowicz, Bambini, 1998 - 99. Image courtesy of Polswiss Art.
Magdalena Abakanowicz, Bambini, 1998 – 99. Image courtesy of Polswiss Art.

“She reminds us of that aspect of being human which sometimes has to be considered for the positive aspects of humanity, sometimes has to acknowledge man’s inhumanity to man,” said Joseph Becherer when talking about Abakanowicz. He is the Chief Curator and Vice President at Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park. To him, Abakanowicz’s works are the greatest gifts to Western civilization. 

Magdalena Abakanowicz’s Bambini installation reminds viewers of that dual nature of positive and negative aspects of humans. The work is a herd of 83 child-size headless figures in concrete and wood. Abakanowicz described her installations in her own words: “Just as the human hand cannot repeat its own gesture, I invoke this disturbing law, switching my own immobile herds into that rhythm.” Bambini (1998 – 99) by Abakanowicz realized a record USD 2,742,719 in the recent Polswiss Art auction. 

Magdalena Abakanowicz, Mała Postać Żelaznym Domu, 1998 - 99. Image courtesy of Polswiss Art.
Magdalena Abakanowicz, Mała Postać Żelaznym Domu, 1998 – 99. Image courtesy of Polswiss Art.

Magdalena Abakanowicz opposed overly literal interpretations of her works. As a protest, she created these faceless sculptures that don’t have an identity or individuality. For her, they were meant to be mysterious but also retain a space in society. Abakanowicz said that the sculptures were “simply a universal story about the human condition.” One example is a sculpture made of fibers that shows a headless human sitting or trapped in a prism-like world. Titled Mała Postać Żelaznym Domu, the piece realized USD 169,903 this December.

The works of Magdalena Abakanowicz allow viewers to enter and see them from the inside. Installations such as War Games and Agora let human imagination collide with nature. These two forces coexist in the world, but there is a constant tension between them. Abakanowicz claimed this middle territory in her sculptures.

The recent record-breaking auction of Magdalena Abakanowicz works ended on December 7, 2021, in Poland. Visit Polswiss Art for more information on the results.

Looking for more auction results? We recently covered a Christie’s sale featuring new illustrations by Quentin Blake, the artist behind Roald Dahl’s children’s books. 

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Deepa Shrestha
Deepa Shrestha
Senior Writer and Editor

Deepa Shrestha is a writer at Auction Daily whose favorite lots range from murals to postcards. She earned her MBA in entrepreneurship and also has a background in sociology and photography. That includes five years as a photojournalist for Thomson Reuters.

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