Sculptor Magdalena Abakanowicz, whose headless human forms are displayed across the U.S., dies at 86

Renowned sculptor and fiber artist Magdalena Abakanowicz, Poland's leading visual artist whose work can be seen across the United States, has died at the age of 86.

Abakanowicz's work was notable for her larger-than-life headless human figures, arranged in crowds in open spaces.

She primarily used thick fibers, hardened with synthetic resins. But she also worked with metals, stone and wood. Her pieces were disturbing and fascinating at the same time.

"Abakanowicz drew from the human lot of the 20th century, the lot of a man destroyed by the disasters of that century, a man who wants to be born anew," said Andrzej Szczerski, head of the National Museum in Krakow.

Her works include "War Games," featuring trunks of old trees turned into shapes evoking regret. They also include 20 "Walking Figures" in bronze, "Space of Stone" made of granite boulders and the "Unrecognized," a group of 112 cast iron figures. At Chicago’s Grant Park, 106 cast iron figures — each about 9 feet tall and depicting people from the waist down frozen in mid-step — became part of the city’s landscape in 2006.

Adam Myjak, rector of the Fine Arts Academy in Warsaw, told Polish PAP agency that Abakanowicz had died, and the academy confirmed that to the Associated Press.

She began her artistic career as a painter, but soon moved to making three-dimensional pieces from soft fabrics and fibers, works now known as "Abakans." That led her to larger firm sculpture forms to be arranged in natural surroundings.

Abakanowicz said it fascinated her to explore new techniques and to develop new forms.

"She showed that sculpture does not need to be in one block, that it can be a situation in space and that it can be made of fabrics," art critic Monika Branicka said.

Her works were shown around the world, including at the Metropolitan Museum in New York and the Tate Modern in London.

Culture Minister Piotr Glinski said her death was "sad news for Poland's culture."

Abakanowicz was born June 20, 1930, in Falenty, near Warsaw. After World War II, she studied at art schools and academies in Gdansk and then in Warsaw, where she settled for life. She was a visiting professor at UCLA in 1984, according to her biography. She died Friday.

A Los Angeles Times staff writer contributed to this report.

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