Image of the Crowd
A monumental artwork mills around Chicago’s Grant Park.
By Jeff Huebner
The southwestern corner of Grant Park, often referred to as
Chicago’s “front yard,” had been a conspicuous open space in a 320-acre park
that dates to the 1830s and faces a more-than-a-mile-long skyscraper wall along
Michigan Avenue. The park was designed in the French Renaissance style of
formal outdoor “rooms,” graced with neoclassical museums, gardens, fountains,
statuary, and other ornamental features. While the spectacularly popular
Millennium Park brought showy contemporary art, architecture, and landscape
design to Grant Park’s northern end, the southern end at Roosevelt Road
remained a large grassy field, a seeming blank slate.
Not anymore. Last November, after three years of work,
Magdalena Abakanowicz dedicated Agora,
an installation that covers about three acres and is said to be the largest
group of figurative sculptures in the world. It’s certainly the 77-year-old
Warsaw artist’s most ambitious “crowd” piece, one of a series of figural groups
that she’s been creating in various materials and permutations for museum
exhibitions, sculpture parks, and other public spaces since the 1980s, evoking
lockstep ideologies, historical memory, conformity and difference, and angst.
surpasses the scope of 2002’s Unrecognized,
permanently installed in Citadel Park in Poznan, Poland (where Abakanowicz was
an art professor for 25 years, until 1990). The park was the scene of a
successful 1945 Red Army and citizen resistance against the Nazis, which left
many residents dead. While the Chicago piece isn’t as politically resonant, the
artist says, “Because of its scale, it does not refer to any other work I have
made before.... It is for me the most important statement I have addressed to
Named for the ancient Greek assembly place, Agora is made up of 106 nine-foot-high
cast-iron figures, each a headless, armless, shell-like torso with a rusted,
barklike texture that reveals humanity’s connectedness to nature. All the
figures are similar in shape, yet no two are alike. Unlike the figures in
Abakanowicz’s earlier crowd pieces, those in Agora are arrayed with deliberate randomness: Two loosely linked
groups span across concrete pads, posed in stopped motion and facing different
directions. A few stand outside the groups, as if they’re leading—or lost.
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