Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago

Magdalena Abakanowicz (Polish, b. 1930)

Cage, 1981

Burlap, glue, and wood

66 x 46 x 61 in. (167.6 x 116.8 x 155 cm)

Gift of Ralph I. and Helyn D. Goldenberg

“The Cage is the image of solitude in multitude. The headless figure expresses the fact that the face can lie; the body cannot. During my life I observed people with their fears, longings, and aggressiveness… . The Cage was born in Poland in 1981 when martial law was imposed, the borders of the country closed, the telephones locked. We were under Russian domination, they wanted to stop our liberation movements. The Cage was like a cry for liberty, like a witness of injustice and crime.”

Magdalena Abakanowicz lives and works in Warsaw. In addition to reflecting her personal history—growing up in Poland during World War II—her sculpture speaks eloquently of the universal human experience of struggle against restrictive forces, whether they be artistic, spiritual, economic, or political.

In Cage, a single burlap cast of a man’s back—hunched slightly, as if defeated by life—sits within a rough log structure, seemingly trapped in the restrictive and isolated space. Through her use of organic materials, Abakanowicz seems to suggest that despair is natural to the human condition.