Bartelik, Marek, Artforum International
Vivid memories of World War II and four decades of communism inform the art of the Polish artist Magdalena Abakanowicz. The complexity of transforming autobiography into art was thoughtfully addressed in her two recent shows. At the Marlborough Gallery, her sculptures--scattered throughout the rooms and placed outside on the terrace--were drawn from Hand-like Trees, 1992--93, the series "Circus," 1992, the multiple-figured Puellae, 1992--93, and Infantes, 1992. But the monumental Embryology, 1978--81, first presented at the Venice Biennale in 1980, dominated the show. A morass of 600 hand-stitched elements made of burlap, cotton, gauze, hemp, nylon, and sisal, shaped like boulders, stones, and pebbles, was arranged to allow the viewer to walk among these pieces. Like swaddling clothes for invisible babies, these elements formed a distressing pile of organic structures, thrown on top of each other as if in a collective grave. In Embryology personal identity is confronted by both nature and history, recalling Abakanowicz's famous multiple "Crowd" series, first conceived in 1986 and executed in various media.
Abakanowicz's archetypal figure-shells, which evoke unprotected brains, also appear in "Circus." Balancing on wooden stumps and beams, open metal bases or wheels of various shapes, they look like actors in a play gone awry, striving to be at once tragic and pleasing. In this show, the artist's ability to stage a silent drama was best transmitted in Puellae, a group of headless bronze figures that looked particularly poignant aligned against a wall of the gallery's terrace, as if facing a mass execution or awaiting a roll call.
The exhibition at the P. …