July 6, 2009

Agora in Grant Park - Chicago, IL

I first became familiar with Polish sculptor Magdalena Abakanowicz through her work "Standing Figures" that is visible in the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art sculpture garden, this first place I visited on The Yellow Brick Road Trip (see my first trip here). So I was happy and surprised to see "Agora" in Grant Park while waiting for a CTA bus. I immediately recognized it as the work of Abakanowicz, she has an incredibly distinctive style of creating massive faceless bodies, an anonymous crowd.

"Agora" is 106 cast iron figures, each about 9 feet tall. Abakanowicz and three assistants hand created the molds for each individual figure and then spent three years (from 2004-2006) casting them. The name comes from the crowded appearance of the figures. The word "agora" refers to an open "place of assembly" in ancient Greek cities. In early history, Greek men would gather in the agora for military duty or to hear statements from the rulers. Later, the agora became a sort of marketplace. (Fun Fact: The term agoraphobia - the fear of being in crowds, public places, or open areas - is derived from the word agora.)

Wandering through the figures is a bizarre feeling. In her work "Standing Figures" the bodies are hollowed out so you could theoretically step into them and be part of the art. But in "Agora," the figures are so towering but faceless that you really begin to feel as though you are wondering through a massive, anonymous crowd. It is an especially interesting commentary in a place like Chicago, where it is easy to become lost in the city crowd among a million other featureless faces. Sometimes, you do feel insignificant when your pressed into a packed L car, like a tiny nameless person unseen among the imposing bodies.

"Agora" is truly an amazing work and I continue to be in awe of Magdalena Abakanowicz's brilliance no matter where I find it - in Chicago or Kansas City.



  1. Great sculptures I could say! I have a place here at the Philippines where we all gather and it's also a so called market place. I found a traveler at http://baraaza.com/ where he mentioned that he almost fainted cause of the anxiety being there at the statues..and yes, maybe has that agoraphobia..hahaha!

    Well, Baraaza though is a travel guide. I'm not that much of a traveler though but I've been learning much about the people at baraaza..it's a great site ;) so check it out :)

  2. i was looking for the name of the piece and came cross your blog, thanks for your personal description of engagement with the Magdalena Abakanowicz sculptures, great when public art connects