Magdalena Abakanowicz
Polish sculptor



We do our best to use images that are open source. If you feel we have used an image of yours inappropriately please let us know and we will fix it.


Our writing can be punchy but we do our level best to ensure the material is accurate. If you believe we have made a mistake, please let us know.


If you are planning to see an artwork, please keep in mind that while the art we cover is held in permanent collections, pieces are sometimes removed from display for renovation or traveling exhibitions.

Magdalena Abakanowicz
Polish sculptor
Be the first to vote…

Birth Date

June 20, 1930

Death Date

April 20, 2017

cschuster's picture

Sr. Contributor

A descendant of Genghis Khan who watched Nazis shoot her mother's arm off.

Daddy Abakanowicz was Russian aristocracy that bolted to Poland after the Bolsheviks got trigger happy during the switchover from Empire to Socialist Republic. The family name ran back to the Mongol emperor of Persia Abaka-Khan, great-grandson of Genghis Kahn. Their royal ties run deep. He got hitched to Magdalena's Mama, of Polish nobility, and settled down on her family's estate a couple hundred miles east of Warsaw. Soon enough, Magdalena arrived and spent her time in the forests around their estate. Wishing for other kids to play with, since she had neither siblings nor neighbors in her tax bracket.

World War II started and the Abakanowicz clan hunkered down to try and ride the storm. Things got too real when drunk Nazis barreled across their lawn and started breaking down the door. Magdalena's Mama let them in to try and get the situation under control. Then, in front of Magdalena, the Nazis shot Mama's right arm clean off and shot up the other hand. The Nazis left, and the Abakanowicz family got the hell out of there to hide out in Warsaw.

After the war, the Soviets made it clear that anyone with a noble family history was gonna get got. The family fled north to the Baltic Coast and lived like they were in witness protection. Magdalena left for art school in Warsaw. Hiding her family history for years. Dealing with the dictates of acceptable art from Poland's communist regime. Extreme poverty. She even had to donate blood to make ends meet. Her track of study focused on textiles. 

While her first job out of college was designing ties in a silk factory, it didn't last long. She hated the daily slog. After marrying well, she gained enough monetary autonomy to do art full time. As Abakanowicz puts it, "In Poland it was almost forbidden to talk about mystery...I did." Her first major project was gigantic suspended textiles she named after her family, Abakans. The project won her international praise in an era when it was difficult for the Polish to get permission to travel outside of the country. From there, she's gone on to grouped sculptures that have a noticeable tying bind: None of them have hands. 

Since the Polish government has eased up on travel restrictions, it's a lot easier for Magdalena to travel around the world to collect the awards she's always receiving and oversee her installations. She may be pushing 90, but Magdalena still puts in work.

Featured Content

Here is what Wikipedia says about Magdalena Abakanowicz

Marta Magdalena Abakanowicz-Kosmowska (20 June 1930 – 20 April 2017) was a Polish sculptor and fiber artist. She is notable for her use of textiles as a sculptural medium. She is widely regarded as one of Poland's most internationally acclaimed artists. She was a professor at the Academy of Fine Arts in Poznań, Poland from 1965 to 1990 and a visiting professor at University of California, Los Angeles in 1984.

Early life

Magdalena Abakanowicz was born to a noble landowner family in Falenty. Her mother descended from old Polish nobility. Her father came from a Polonized Tatar family, which traced its origins to Abaqa Khan (a 13th-century Mongol chieftain). Her father's family fled Russia to the newly independent Poland after the October Revolution.

The Russian invasion of 1920 forced her family to flee their home, after which they moved to the city of Gdańsk. When she was nine Nazi Germany invaded and occupied Poland. Her family endured the war years living on the outskirts of Warsaw. After the war and resulting Soviet occupation, the family moved to the small city of Tczew near Gdańsk, in northern Poland, where they hoped to start a new life.

Under Soviet control, the Polish government officially adopted Socialist realism as the only acceptable art form which should be pursued by artists. Originally conceived by Joseph Stalin in the 1930s, Socialist realism, in nature, had to be 'national in form' and 'socialist in content'. Other art forms being practiced at the time in the West, such as Modernism, were officially outlawed and heavily censored in all Eastern bloc nations, including Poland. Lack of official sanction did nothing to reduce her enthusiasm or alter the revolutionary course of her work.

Check out the full Wikipedia article about Magdalena Abakanowicz.