Magdalena Abakanowicz: Every Tangle of Thread and Rope at Tate Modern, London, is a brief but powerful overview of the Polish artist’s category-defying woven sculptures known as Abakans, which she created in the 1960s and 70s. Made of thread and rope, their large-scale appearance envelops the viewer in a powerful forest of entities in the final rooms.
The opening room is conventional enough, charting her education in painting and weaving following WWII in 1954, and featuring a dazzling array of tapestry designs, some quite massive, which show her early interest in organic forms. A slit in a corner of the room also allows one to sneak a preview of her magnificent development over the next decade.
Abakanowicz’s home and studio was like a kunstkammer of the natural world to which she had a strong connection, filled with shells, animal horns, plants, etc. A large wall has assembled these curiosities for us to admire beside her monochrome drawings and ever daring sculptural creations.
The rest is fairly self-explanatory. In fact, it’s more of an immersive experience. Weavings are almost never intended to be seen ‘in the round’ like sculptures, so it’s already quite a bold move on a mediumistic level, one that the artist intended. These fibrous beings feel like shadows in a dark room, omnipresent, watching over us like totemic guardians. Something spiritual and otherworldly is at play here, thankfully of a non-threatening kind.
Later on, these sculptures turn towards an existential exploration of what makes something ‘alive’, manifesting in forms associated with the female body. Themes of birth, life, vulnerability, and decay are suggested in these large masses as well as in her drawings.
A stunning show which I urge everyone to experience at least once.
Magdalena Abakanowicz: Every Tangle of Thread and Rope runs until 21 May 2023 at Tate Modern, London, https://www.tate.org.uk