Sunday, October 29, 2006

The miserable world of Magdalena Abakanowicz

It's coming to Chicago ! The sad world of Magdalena Abakanowicz (shown here in this revealing photograph by Zbigniew Bzdak of the Chicago Tribune)

What are the descriptive words that one could associate with this Polish woman's world ?

repulsive -- stiff --- cluttered -- menacing -- disorienting --- despair -- misery

Can one, single positive feeling be listed ?

"I am making a statement about nature and our consciousness"
she said to the Tribune reporter "People who never went through war will associate this with a shell, or like a forgotten garment" "

But this looks more like a statement about HER consciousness -- coming from her personal history as a child of war-torn Poland -- and she stands there awkward, stiff, and assertive -- like just one more of her headless zombies.

The world has made her miserable -- and she -- in turn -- has made a miserable world of her own.

That's O.K. -- we should all be allowed to express ourselves.

But why does this piece of misery have to be on our beautiful lakefront -- where I think we go to get away from the ugliness of the rest of the city --- don't we ?


Anonymous Joy In Life said...

Perhaps the beauty of this work is that it highlights the world's beauty for you...without sorrow, there is no joy.

I should like to see her work so that I might discern if she has done something more than illustrate suffering...if she begins to show us what may arrive in the light of survivorhood.

October 30, 2006  
Blogger chris miller said...

Now you're making me want to revisit Florence -- and Donatello's Mary Magdalen. Now that's the kind of sorrow I want !
(the beautiful kind)

Meanwhile -- it just occurred to me -that I really want to have my own picture taken -- standing right where the other Madalena was standing -- in the midst of all those zombies -- here in Chicago, screaming my own head off.

(I think it would make a good picture for our Christmas card this year!)

October 30, 2006  
Blogger Robert said...

I look forward to recieving one. (Christmas card!!)Seriously though we also look forward to seing Abakanowicz and the waterfront. Chigago is a little typecast by Elliot Ness or his like, so the waterfront sounds great. My son has a Microsoft car driving game based on your city too so we have a strange mixture of ideas about it!
Perhaps we ought to all go to Florence!


October 30, 2006  
Anonymous Joy In Life said...

Ah - is that the Mary carved in wood, in the little museum outside of the Duomo? I walked by there today and thought of visiting her, then read your post!

Do come visit! My classes are driving me mad! -- Today I began sculpting the human skull, a fitting task for Halloween...your photo concept also works well for today, perhaps...

October 31, 2006  
Blogger chris miller said...

yes -- that all-hair figure carved by Donatello is one my all-time favorites -- and I get shivers just thinking about it.

I LOVE SORROW ! (not my own, of course, but the sorrow of others --expressed especially through song -- but also painting, sculpture, poetry etc)

Maybe someday I'll be in the position to whisk around the globe -- visiting brilliant people like yourself, Robert Mileham, and Sir Gawain.

But until then -- I guess all I've got is email.

October 31, 2006  
Blogger Robert said...

Donatello's Mary Magdalena is clearly a "classic". I acknowledge the cleverness with which he imparts his message and applaud his artistic genius. Who knows what Mary Magdalene looked like? Judging by her story she was probably quite attractive and certainly very feminine! How would you portray her? It is interesting that Michelangelo makes the Virgin Mary much younger in the face in the Pieta when in theory she would have been approaching 50. Most of his female figures have a strong masculine nature to them. Here Donatello’s Mary Magdalena is rather sexless too. For me sorrow is much more poignant when the contrast of joy and sorrow are expressed together. The Joy is in the touch of beauty and the Sorrow by facial expression and body language. That is the tragedy I would try to express. Donatello’s Madonna and child at the Detroit Institute is a beautiful work with all the humanity in place and I suspect he has used similar techniques. But here too he only expresses one emotion in this work, that of joy. This work of Donatello has all the genius of Munch's scream but neither work gives me much of a lift nor I suppose, are they intended to!

As for the Polish girl, I applaud the effort she must have put into these works but agree at first sight they are even more depressing. Without seeing the whole exhibition it is unfair to comment further.

November 01, 2006  
Anonymous Gawain said...

ah, the mary magdalen. i know SEVERAL people who ran away form her screaming.

yes, it is HER consciousness and I don't think I want any part of it. there are ways of speaking about profound suffering which don't make make puke. Call me shallow, but I am not so fond of feeling sick, so I suppose I much prefer the OTHER ways of speaking about suffering. :)

PS, yes, she is in the Museo del Duomo. (Or is it the Bargello?)

The Bargello btw has some sculpture which is really worth seeing: the four side figures from the Plinth of Cellini's Perseus. (The things on the Perseus, in P. Signoria, are copies, and they are horrible).

November 12, 2006  
Blogger chris miller said...

Good to hear from you again,
Gawain !

It's been a few decades since I've seen the Penitent Magdalene in person -- and my response to the pictures that I'm finding now is completely different from what I remember -- because I remember this piece as a burning torch of ascending flame -- and a fine way to contemplate that truth about the human condition. As I remember, I was so excited after seeing it -- I just walked around for while through Florence -- thinking "oh wow ! oh wow!"

There's nothing else like it (that I've seen, anyway) -- and I can't even remember ever seeing another statue on this theme -- although it would seem to deserve it.

The closest thing I can recall -- are those emaciated figures of Kali found in Tibet and Nepal.

November 13, 2006  
Blogger chris miller said...

Wow ! -- I wasn't quite expecting this diatribe to make to make to the op-ed page of the Chicago Tribune today -- but since it did -- let me elaborate a bit on my concerns.

I like Grant Park -- and occasionally walk through it on the way to the Field Museum -- but my real interest is in its northern occupant, the Art Institute - that I visit every week --- so my real concern is not so much how the bizarre world of contemporary art is abusing the lakefront -- but how it has come to utterly dominate the Art Institute -- which, though "encylopedic" regarding the past, is one-dimensional regarding the present.

Why did it discontinue the "Chicago Vicinty Show" 20 years ago ? Why will it never exhibit the top, living artists of non-contemporary genres -- like portrait painting, Impressionist landscape, Chinese brush painting, Orthodox ikons, Hindu liturgical sculpture, American Western art, Classical bronzes ?
Why will its new contemporary wing be devoted 100% to the kind of contemporary art that has been so well represented by the M.C.A. ?

And why do we -- the citizens who collectively own the lakefront land on which it sits -- allow it to serve the interests of the billionaire's club that sits on the A.I.C. board -- instead of the broader, middle-class public that mostly enjoys the kind of Impressionist visions that draw them to the block-buster exhibits ?

Why do we -- art lovers of various enthusiasms -- concede all authority to museum administrators who are basically specialists in fund-raising and corporate management ?

There needs to be a website devoted to the Art Institute -- but not run by its administration -- and let this be my opportunity to ask anyone who is interested to contact me about it.

( )

November 17, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

To Chris Miller:

Would you rather have flowers and butterflies sculptures in the Grant Park?

November 17, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

These figures might make us recognize that we are not alone in this big city.

November 18, 2006  
Anonymous marly said...

Are they hollow, I wonder? (Thinking of Eliot, who 'said' the same thing in a few words, long ago.) If so, you might treat them as enormous vases that you fill to bursting with riotous flowers... Or as planters, their emptiness filled with dirt and roots and giving birth to great greeny heads: a "green man" race of waving, flowering torsos and heads.

November 19, 2006  
Blogger chris miller said...

Turn the statues into a forest of flower pots ?

O.K. -- but as I've already said, I want more sculpture in the park, not just more flowers and butterflies.

So -- I'd rather cover the entire installation with soil -- establishing an elevated platform -- and then have the Koh-Varilla Guild (a local team of sculptors who did the Soldiers' monument just north of Soldiers Field - to design a more up-lifting display.

That way --- everyone would be happy.

For those who enjoy using their eyes -- the space would look good -- and for those who must delve into subtexts and layers of hidden meaning -- there would be plenty there for them to contemplate.

November 19, 2006  
Anonymous marly said...

Ah, I see.

Passing by mountshang, I tossed a little heartless whimsy at your genuine dislike of the idea.

But you have gone far beyond me!

Yes, I imagine many things might be decoded from that combination of buried Abakanowicz and airborne Koh-Varilla.

I shall have to go off and look at her web site. No doubt she has one. Everybody does.

November 19, 2006  
Blogger Gawain said...

Dinatello also did a John the Baptist just like that, I think it is in Milan (or is it Venice). there is a series of Tang dynasty arhats (Chinese) preserved in Japan in the same style. and there are of course all those madman apostles (some of them by Donatello) from the tower of the Florence Duomo (now in the Museo del Duomo). pictures of mental illness represented as height of religious extasy arent that rare, actually. when i worked in a halfway house there was a client who kept meeting Jesus in the John. he would stand on the toilet seat and offer him a joint. :)

November 21, 2006  

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