Vancouver Biennale seeks donor to purchase $2m headless sculptures for the city

Only five of Magdalena Abakanowicz’s Headless Walking Figures remain outside City Hall, as demand for the artist’s work has grown

Magdalena Abakanowicz's Headless Walking Figures in Vancouver © GoToVan via Flickr

Magdalena Abakanowicz's Headless Walking Figures in Vancouver © GoToVan via Flickr

While Vancouver has been accused of being a “soulless” city, with arts and culture often compromised by the whims of a heated real estate market, it is the case of some “headless” art works that concerns Vancouver Biennale president Barrie Mowatt.

He is currently seeking a philanthropist who will save the remaining five Headless Walking Figures, by the late Polish artistMagdalena Abakanowicz, that are currently installed outside Vancouver’s City Hall Subway Station.

The price for the decapitated sculptures is$2m, Mowatt says, and they “ideally are reserved for a philanthropist who will purchase them for donation to the City of Vancouver via the Vancouver Biennale’s registered charity”.

The group of cast-iron figures were first commissioned for the 2005-2007 Vancouver Biennale, and reference “time and loss” according to their online description. At the time and under the artist’s direction, 20 figures were individually cast at an industrial foundry in Śrem, near Poznań, Poland. Each piece was marked with unique traces and differentiated by manipulation of the figurative frame.

Originally installed in nearby Queen Elizabeth Park, nine of the sculptures were transferred to their current location for the 2009-2011 Biennale. In 2018, six were loaned to the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts for the exhibition La Balade pour la Paix: An Open-Air Museum , part of the official programme of Montreal’s 375th anniversary, the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of Expo 67 and the 150th anniversary of Canadian Confederation. Finally, in 2020, three of the headless walkers were loaned to Arts on the Avenue, a non-profit community arts organisation in Edmonton, Alberta.

“It was the artist’s intent for the sculptures to provide a revenue stream to support the Vancouver Biennale’s public programming and International Artists Residencies,” Mowatt added in a statement. “But with the escalation in Abakanowicz’s prices, the sale of her artwork has been tremendous for the Vancouver-based non-profit charitable arts organisation and an impetus for other exhibiting international artists to make legacy donations.”

Now there are five remaining in Vancouver. Weighing 1,433 lbs each, the monumental figures certainly have a sense of gravitas. And with their original inspiration being the ancient Greek Agora, where democracy began, their current installation a few hundred metres from city hall is apropos.

Mowatt says he hopes the works will remain in Vancouver, “inspiring future generations to reflect and celebrate how art can transform public space.”