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Ten Headless Figures Stroll into Dag Hammarskjold Plaza

By Amy Zimmer | March 7, 2012 8:19am
Magdalena Abakanowicz, whose work is at Princeton and elsewhere, is bringing her sculpture to Dag Hammarskjold Plaza in April.
Magdalena Abakanowicz, whose work is at Princeton and elsewhere, is bringing her sculpture to Dag Hammarskjold Plaza in April.
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MANHATTAN  —  Ten large sculptures, called “Walking Figures,” will soon saunter into Dag Hammarskjold Plaza.

Crafted by hand by the internationally renowned sculptor Magdalena Abakanowicz and her assistants these large somber-looking hollowed-out headless bronze figures, which are roughly 8-feet-tall, reflect the artist’s experience growing up in Poland, Parks Department officials said Tuesday at a Community Board 6 committee presentation.

Abakanowicz, who was born into a Polish-Russian aristocratic family, was 9 years old when World War II broke out. She then lived through 45 years of Soviet communist rule.

"She has learned to escape to her corner, to make the best of things, to use whatever was viable and even to make gigantic works in a tiny studio," the Parks presentation said. "Her art has always addressed the problems of dignity and courage."

Abakanowicz created similar installations for a permanent display with 20 figures seemingly frozen in time at Princeton University and in Chicago’s Grant Park, where 106 of the figures have been placed.

The temporary installation at Dag Hammarskjold Plaza, sponsored by the famed Marlborough Gallery, is expected to run from April through the end of August or after Labor Day weekend, Parks officials said.

The figures appear fairly similar, but they vary slightly in size, and their surfaces have distinct ripples and characteristics, like tree bark or wrinkled skin.

Abakanowicz has said that the image of a crowd holds particular significance to her, relating to the transformation of an individual into a cog.

"I am fading among the anonymity of glances, movements, smells, in the common absorption of air, in the common pulsation of juices under the skin," she commented, according to her website.

Sherrill Kazan, president of Friends of Dag Hammarskjold Plaza, was excited to have the works of the acclaimed sculptor in the space.

"You see at it as the tyranny of the time,” said Kazan, who has seen Abakanowicz’s work previously. “But it’s also about life afterward."

Since 2000, the plaza has been home to more than 13 installations, she noted, including last year's life-sized figures by Icelandic sculptor Steinunn Thórarinsdóttir and a temporary multimedia installation by Rachel Owens, dedicated to the Parks Department curator, Clare Weiss, who championed Owens' work before she died of breast cancer in 2010.

"We’re very fortunate to have a culturally diverse and gender diverse group of renowned sculptors,” said Kazan, who was instrumental in turning the space into a hub for public art. "I think the sculpture platform, as we call it, has brought out part of the pulse of New York City art scene."