Urgent Museum Notice

Artist Magdalena Abakanowicz Selected for Third Installation of New York Avenue Sculpture Project

Ten larger-than-life bronze sculptures of human bodies are installed in the middle of a city street. The bodies have no heads or arms, and are striding forward in five rows of two. While they are not naked, their wrinkled body-tight clothing makes no distinction between shirt and pants.

WASHINGTON—Internationally renowned artist Magdalena Abakanowicz (b. 1930)has been selected as the third artist for the New York Avenue Sculpture Project, the only public art space featuring changing installations of contemporary works by women artists in Washington, D.C. Organized by the National Museum of Women in the Arts (NMWA), the New York Avenue Sculpture Project is a collaboration between the museum, the Downtown DC Business Improvement District (BID), the DC Office of Planning and other local agencies. The Sculpture Project illustrates the museum’s long-term commitment to the artistic beautification of New York Avenue, fostering a vibrant new identity for the neighborhood just east of the White House. The installation will be on view from Sept. 27, 2014 through Sept. 27, 2015.

The Sculpture Project will include a range of figurative works by Polish artist Abakanowicz. Her monumentally-scaled sculptures of grouped human figures and birds in flight exemplify issues universal to humankind: the power of nature, the force of destruction and the resiliency of hope. Abakanowicz’s art is often inspired by her experiences and observations during World War II and its repressive postwar climate.

“This installation will honor one of the greatest monumental sculptors of our time. Her works’ placement within the capital city of our republic will be compelling,” said NMWA Director Susan Fisher Sterling. “Abakanowicz’s sculptures of figures atop wheel axles extend from her childhood memory of traveling with coins sewn into her clothing while escaping advancing military troops. When viewed in the context of New York Avenue, with drivers and pedestrians moving by, these sculptures will allude more generally to human journeys, both actual and metaphysical.”

Abakanowicz’s best-known outdoor projects include installations in Hiroshima, Jerusalem, Seoul and Chicago. She remains the only woman artist to have sculptures featured in the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s annual exhibition “On the Roof,” a series begun 15 years ago. Located in the median of New York Avenue between 12th and 13th Streets, NW, Abakanowicz’s works in the Sculpture Project will be dedicated at a Community Day on Tuesday, September 30, 2014.

Representatives from NMWA, the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts, the National Capital Planning Commission, the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities, the DowntownDC Business Improvement District, the District Department of Transportation, the DC Office of Planning, the Advisory Neighborhood Commission, local museums with outdoor sculpture programs and public art experts make up the advisory board that selected the winning artist.

This Sculpture Project installation is typical of Abakanowicz’s work, in which she often reproduces a motif such as figures, birds or tree trunks in numerous sculptures grouped together. The installation features five artworks comprising 14 individual sculptures. Although each bronze figure and stainless steel bird appears similar to others, every sculpture features distinctive proportions and irregular surface textures, reflecting Abakanowicz’s interest in earthy materials that give her sculptures raw power.

The content of Abakanowicz’s art is often sourced in personal experiences. She suffered deprivation and witnessed violence during World War II. After the war, she endured political oppression in Poland. Yet Abakanowicz describes her art as “fully metaphorical” and representative of forces that shape all human lives. She has been drawn to nature since childhood, when she spent time in the landscape surrounding her home. Her sculptures of birds in flight express her affinity for nature’s rhythms. Walking Figures (2009) echoes the artist’s experience in postwar Poland, where citizens endured long queues for scarce goods. These sculptures allude to inner strength by depicting each figure striding forward. The figures in the group are sculpted without heads, appearing neither male nor female, but evocative of all humankind.

NMWA’s partner organizations have provided integral support for the project’s ongoing success.

“The sculptures along New York Avenue have become a must-see public art installation in the DowntownDC BID area,” said Richard H. Bradley, executive director of the DowntownDC Business Improvement District. “We are thrilled to be a part of the New York Avenue Sculpture Project and herald its ability to be at the forefront of placemaking projects and programs in the Downtown.”

The BID is one of the museum’s public-private partners on the sculpture project. It managed the preliminary design and engineering, shepherded the project through the approval processes of seven agencies, and took the lead in managing the construction project, including lighting, landscaping and signage. The Downtown BID Safety/Hospitality and Maintenance employees (SAMs) will again help maintain the landscaping once plantings are installed around Abakanowicz’s art.

New York Avenue Sculpture Project: Magdalena Abakanowicz is made possible with funding provided by the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities, Public Art Building Communities Grant Program; the Homer and Martha Gudelsky Family Foundation; and Medda Gudelsky.

About the Artist

Magdalena Abakanowicz’s work has been featured in more than 150 solo exhibitions in Europe, North and South America, Asia and Australia. Most recently, her art has been presented in the Palacio de Cristal, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid; Instituto Valenciano de Arte Moderno, Valencia; Fondazione Arnaldo Pomodoro, Milan; Tate Modern, London; and Akbank Art Center, Istanbul. Abakanowicz has developed a number of site-specific sculpture installations that incorporate multiple figures rendered at an outsized scale. Among these are installations at the Israel Museum, Jerusalem; Olympic Park, Seoul, South Korea; Europos Parkas, Lithuania; and a sculptural group comprising 106 cast-iron figures in Chicago’s Grant Park.

Abakanowicz studied at the Academy of Fine Arts, Warsaw, Poland, where she lives and works today. She served as professor at the Academy of Fine Arts, Poznan, Poland (1965–90), and visiting professor at the University of California, Los Angeles in 1984. Among numerous awards and distinctions, Abakanowicz has received seven honorary doctorates from universities in Europe and the United States as well as the Commandeur de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres from France. She was also awarded the International Sculpture Center’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2005.

National Museum of Women in the Arts

Founded in 1981 and opened in 1987, NMWA is the only museum solely dedicated to celebrating the achievements of women in the visual, performing and literary arts. The museum’s collection features 4,500 works from the 16th century to the present created by more than 1,000 artists, including Mary Cassatt, Frida Kahlo, Alma Thomas, Lee Krasner, Louise Bourgeois, Chakaia Booker and Nan Goldin, along with special collections of 18th-century silver tableware and botanical prints. NMWA is located at 1250 New York Avenue, NW, Washington, D.C., in a landmark building near the White House. It is open Monday–Saturday, 10 a.m.–5 p.m. and Sunday, noon–5 p.m. For information, call 202-783-5000 or visit www.nmwa.org. Admission is $10 for adults, $8 for visitors 65 and over and students, and free for NMWA Members and youths 18 and under. Free Community Days are on the first Sunday of the month. For more information about NMWA, visit www.nmwa.org, Broad Strokes Blog, Facebook or Twitter.