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Meijer Gardens show features drawings of Polish sculptor Magdalena Abakanowicz

Meijer Gardens show features drawings of Polish sculptor Magdalena Abakanowicz

There was a time in Magdalena Abakanowicz's life when the Polish artist simply stopped drawing.
It happened while she was studying at the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw in the early 1950s, when Poland was a communist satellite of the former Soviet Union.
A professor, worried about the abstract elements of one of Abakanowicz's drawings, erased everything in it that he felt did not meet the criteria of socialist realism, the only art movement acceptable to the Soviet government at the time.
"I was so upset that I abandoned drawing for many years," she said. "It was such pain, terrible pain, when someone touched my work and destroyed it, that I could not draw."
A friend persuaded her to resume drawing some years later, after socialist realism had faded away in Poland. Now 76, Abakanowicz continues to draw today, and 50 of her renderings are on public display _ several for the first time _ at Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park.
The three-month show, "Magdalena Abakanowicz: The Drawings," is the first museum exhibition devoted solely to drawings created by the artist, an internationally acclaimed sculptor and iconic cultural figure in Poland.
"I think that this exhibition of drawings is very important because it is like a story of my life," Abakanowicz told The Associated Press in an interview from Warsaw, where she lives. "It is a retrospective. It shows drawings that I made 10 to 50 years ago. They are from different periods of time."
Following its debut in Grand Rapids, where it runs through Dec. 31, the show will begin a national tour in 2007, with dates and locations to be announced later.
"For such an established figure to say, 'You know what, I'd like to begin this with you,' it means a great deal," said Joseph Becherer, sculpture curator at Meijer Gardens. The 125-acre (50-hectare) Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park is a botanic garden and sculpture park established by retailer Fred Meijer. Its indoor galleries, tropical conservatory, children's garden, 1,600-seat outdoor amphitheater and sculpture park attract more than 600,000 visitors each year.
The drawings present groups of trees, flowers and flies as well as heads, both with and without torsos. Each drawing is monochromatic, created with ink, charcoal or gouache, a kind of opaque watercolor. In most cases, Abakanowicz drew with her fingertips.
Unlike many artists who make preliminary sketches of their planned sculptures, her drawings are separate, independent works, Becherer said.
"There is, however, very much a relationship of artistic integrity and power and presence," he said. "The works in three-dimensional form really stay with you. She's a very powerful, very strong sculptor. The drawings exude, in a different way, some of that same strength and presence but they're independent."
While many of Abakanowicz's sculptures depict human figures without heads, some of her drawings depict heads without faces. Such anonymity within art makes it less about an individual and more about humanity, Becherer said.
"Her bottom line is that her work is intended to speak to some core element in humanity, whether you're in Grand Rapids, Michigan, or New York or Warsaw or Japan," he said.
Meijer Gardens has obtained its first Abakanowicz sculpture and will install it next year. "Figure on a Trunk," a large bronze with a human figure shown standing atop a large tree trunk, was the centerpiece of Abakanowicz's 1998 exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
"She is a major international artist who has revitalized the figural tradition in Western art, especially in the groups of anonymous striding or stooped headless forms," said Glenn Harper, editor of Sculpture magazine. "Her human and animal figures evoke the tragedies and disasters of the past and present centuries."
She established her artistic reputation during the 1960s with her giant abstract and figurative sculptures known as "Abakans." Made from burlap and other fibrous materials, they were hung in galleries from ceilings so that their bottoms were only inches above floors.
Abakanowicz also sculpts from wood, stone, bronze, iron, aluminum and other media. Her works are found in museums, galleries and sculpture parks throughout the world.
Late in October, in Chicago's Grant Park, she will begin installing a huge, permanent display of 106 cast-iron human figures, each 9 feet (nearly 3 meters) tall and weighing 1,100 pounds (495 kilograms).
Abakanowicz grew up on a country estate near Warsaw but her aristocratic family lost almost everything after Germany invaded Poland at the start of World War II. She remained in her homeland through Nazi occupation, communist rule and the solidarity movement, and her experiences greatly influenced her art.
"I live in my corner," she said. "I am by nature a loner and the only contract with people is through my art, with which I express much more than I could put into words."
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On the Net:
http://www.meijergardens.org
http://www.abakanowicz.art.pl