Magdalena Abakanowicz Tapestries

08.03 – 28.03.1965 Magdalena Abakanowicz Tapestries

Zachęta Central Bureau of Art Exhibitions (CBWA)

exhibition design: Andrzej Zaborowski
poster design: Julian Pałka
attendance: 6,549 (Rocznik CBWA [CBWA Annual])

Magdalena Abakanowicz (1930–2017) studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw between 1950 and 1954. She initially engaged in painting; however, she quickly gave up the medium in favour of textiles. Her first individual exhibition took place in 1960 at Kordegarda in Warsaw. Two years later, she showed her works at the Biennial in Lausanne, which influenced the crystallisation of the Polish school of textiles. It was then that Polish artists celebrated an unexpected success. The Biennial was intended to celebrate the triumph of the ‘father of contemporary tapestry’, Jean Lurçat. The success of little-known artists from beyond the Iron Curtain was surprising. The works of Polish artists were innovative because they were created in a weaving studio without the participation of craftsmen, which made them unique — unlike the French textiles manufactured in several copies. In subsequent years, gallery owners and museum directors from around the world visited the studios of Polish weavers and then presented their works in their institutions.1 The new genre of artistic creativity was also promoted outside of Lausanne. Relief-spatial textiles began to appear in museums and galleries in Europe and beyond, particularly in the United States.2

Abakanowicz described the process of tapestry creation as follows: ‘My entire “secret” is about the combination of individual elements, threads, colours, the type of material. In my textiles, I use fibres of varying plumpness, stiffness and colours. The black of matte wool is different from the black of shiny silk, the whites of hemp, raw sheep’s fleece or a clothesline, and that is what I use for my textiles.’3

In 1965, Abakanowicz showed 14 large-format tapestries at Zachęta. Ignacy Witz stated: ‘Magdalena Abakanowicz’s show became, regardless of the utilitarian meaning of these works, a truly seriously artistic event.’4 Hanna Ptaszkowska also noted that the exhibition should be seen as a success for the artist.5

Kierunki argued: ‘the artist “explodes” the routine-bound tradition of the European tapestry — as we know based for a good few centuries on unchanging rules. The effects of the modernisation could be seen at Zachęta . . .’.6 In 1965, Abakanowicz was already a world-renowned artist, which must have also influenced the Warsaw audience’s interest in her art. Życie Warszawy reported that the textiles on show at Zachęta were bound for exhibitions in São Paulo, Lausanne, Paris, Buenos Aires, the Netherlands and Sweden.7

            From the time of the exhibition at the CBWA, the term abakan became popular, referring to the artist’s woven reliefs, and after 1966, to three-dimensional spatial forms. The magazine Zwierciadło warned: ‘Do not look for it in dictionaries. Dictionaries do not include it. It was created to name works by Magdalena Abakanowicz. Perhaps it will catch on. It would be completely logical for it to catch on, since no existing work quite matches what comes from the artist’s hands. These are not tapestries, for several reasons. First: Magdalena Abakanowicz not only designs, but also makes her works herself in a workshop. Second: the technique she uses significantly exceeds the frameworks of this quite conventional art. And finally, third: what she accomplishes in her works, leaves the limits of possibilities of traditional weaving far behind.’8 In 1967, Abakanowicz presented the work Abakan in Lausanne. In 1971, her works from the 5th Biennial in Lausanne were shown at Zachęta, following which there was a competition for the name of the spatial compositions. The winner was ‘abakan’, which since then has taken root in art criticism and history.

            The textiles shown at Zachęta in 1965 pointed to a new stage of Abakanowicz’s creative work. As Tygodnik Demokratyczny noted, ‘the artist’s work seems to have lost the tendency to achieve an effect through the use of contrasting combinations of bright colours. The current exhibition gives the impression of being very carefully toned down towards calmer, more tempered colour associations, which by no means lessens the dynamics of the compositions, which are just as much a feast for the viewers’ eyes as before’.9 Hanna Ptaszkowska presented an in-depth analysis of the exhibition, writing that Abakanowicz’s tapestries, in comparison with the works shown at the Gallery of Modern Art two years prior were characterised by greater artistic value and combined applied art with so-called pure art. Ptaszkowska argued: ‘For a time, Abakanowicz’s textiles were primarily the realisation of painting ideas, the application in textile of compositional arrangements that were originally carried out using paint and brush. . . . It was not until Abakanowicz’s latest textiles that the true creative possibilities were revealed.’10

The reviews of the CBWA exhibition noted the feminine dimension of this art; an example is the text titled ‘Malarka przy krosnach. Jedno z najstarszych kobiecych zajęć’ [A painter at the loom. One of the oldest women’s occupations].11 Magdalena Abakanowicz is the most recognisable among Polish women artists creating in textiles. She owed her international success to the medium; however, later on she decided to distance herself from it, turning her interests to sculpture, more often associated with ‘high art’. As Jolanta Owidzka recalls: ‘Magda Abakanowicz did a lot of harm to us once, saying in an interview with Polityka that weaving was a sin one should never admit to.’12

Karolina Zychowicz
documentation department of Zachęta — National Gallery of Art

This compilation was prepared as part of the National Programme for the Development of Humanities of the Polish Minister of Science and Higher Education — research project The History of Exhibitions at Zachęta — Central Office of Art Exhibitions in 1949–1970 (no. 0086/NPRH3/H11/82/2016) conducted by the Institute of Art History of the University of Warsaw in collaboration with Zachęta — National Gallery of Art.

translated by: Paulina Bożek



  • Morawińska, Agnieszka. ‘Magdalena Abakanowicz’, in Artystki polskie, exh. cat. Warsaw: National Museum, 1991, p. 72
  • Zychowicz, Karolina. ‘Artystki i wystawy. Pokazy indywidualne kobiet w kręgu CBWA w latach 1956–1981’, in: Maria Anto. Malarka, ed. Michał Jachuła, exh. Cat. Warsaw: Zachęta — Narodowa Galeria Sztuki, 2017, pp. 93–110


  • ‘Abakany’. Zwierciadło, no. 14 (4 April), 1965
  • (b). ‘Unowocześniony gobelin’. Kierunki, no. 12 (21 March), 1965
  • Czerwiński, Aleksy. ‘Gobeliny – obrazy’. Stolica, no. 20 (16 March), 1965
  • EGA. ‘Gobeliny obrazy’. Trybuna Ludu, no. 88 (29 March), 1965
  • (grt). ‘Trzy wystawy trzy światy w Zachęcie’. Express Wieczorny, no. 70 (23 March), 1965
  • I. H. ‘Gobeliny Magdaleny Abakanowicz’. Przegląd Artystyczny, no. 4, 1965
  • Kosińska, Maria. ‘Po wielkim konkursie’. 7-my Głos Tygodnia, no. 12 (21 April), 1965
  • ‘Kronika plastyczna’. Współczesność, no. 7/8 (27 April), 1965
  • ‘Malarka przy krosnach. Jedno z najstarszych kobiecych zajęć’. no. 58 (9 March), 1965
  • ‘Nasz fotoreporter z wizytą u Magdaleny Abakanowicz’. Życie Warszawy, no. 63 (14–15 March), 1965
  • ‘Notatnik artystyczny. Gobeliny Magdaleny Abakanowicz’. Projekt, no. 2, 1965
  • Ptaszkowska, Hanna. ‘Gobeliny Magdaleny Abakanowicz’, Kultura, no. 15 (11 June), 1965.
  • Witz, Ignacy. ‘Abakanowicz, Truszyński, Zemła’. Życie Warszawy, no. 67 (19 March), 1965
  • Wróblewska, Danuta. ‘Sztuka piękna i użyteczna’. Stolica, no. 24 (13 June), 1965
  • Wystawa gobelinów Magdaleny Abakanowicz, exh. cat. Warsaw: Centralne Biuro Wystaw Artystycznych ‘Zachęta’, 1965
  • ZDS. ‘Polska tkanina i amerykańska grafika użytkowa’. Tygodnik Demokratyczny, no. 12 (17–23 March), 1965


  • Trybuna Ludu, no. 65 (6 March), 1965; Życie Warszawy, no. 56 (6 March), 1965; Express Wieczorny, no. 57 (8 March), 1965; Głos Pracy, no. 57 (9 March), 1965; Sztandar Młodych, no. 57 (9 March), 1965; Słowo Powszechne, no. 71 (25 March), 1965; Express Ilustrowany, no. 73 (27–28 March), 1965

1 Marta Kowalewska, ‘Historia rewolucji’,, pp. 19–20, accessed: 15 April 2021.
2 ‘Polska szkoła tkaniny. Z Ireną Huml rozmawiają Marta Kowalewska i Michał Jachuła’,, p. 10, accessed: 15 April 2021.
3 ‘Malarka przy krosnach. Jedno z najstarszych kobiecych zajęć’, no. 58 (9 March), 1965.
4 Ignacy Witz, ‘Abakanowicz, Truszyński, Zemła’, Życie Warszawy, no. 67 (19 March), 1965.
5 Hanna Ptaszkowska, ‘Gobeliny Magdaleny Abakanowicz’, Kultura, no. 15 (11 June), 1965.
6 (b), ‘Unowocześniony gobelin’, Kierunki, no. 12 (21 March), 1965.
7‘Nasz fotoreporter z wizytą u Magdalena Abakanowicz’, Życie Warszawy, no. 63 (15 March), 1965.
8 ‘Abakany’, Zwierciadło, no. 14 (4 April), 1965.
9 ZDS, ‘Polska tkanina i amerykańska grafika użytkowa’, Tygodnik Demokratyczny, no. 12 (17–23 March), 1965.
10 Hanna Ptaszkowska, ‘Gobeliny Magdaleny Abakanowicz’, Kultura, no. 15 (11 June), 1965.
11 ‘Malarka przy krosnach. Jedno z najstarszych kobiecych zajęć’, no. 58 (9 March), 1965.
12 ‘Nie szydełkuję w długie zimowe wieczory’. Jolanta Owidzka in conversation with Klara Czerniewska’,, accessed: 15 April 2021. 

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Magdalena Abakanowicz
08.03 – 28.03.1965

Zachęta Central Bureau of Art Exhibitions (CBWA)
pl. Małachowskiego 3, 00-916 Warsaw
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