The southwestern corner of Grant Park, often referred to as Chicago’s “front yard,” had been a conspicuous open space in a 320-acre park that dates to the 1830s and faces a more than mile-long skyscraper wall along Michigan Avenue. The park was designed in the French Renaissance style of formal outdoor “rooms,” graced with neoclassical museums, gardens, fountains, statuary, and other ornamental features. While the spectacularly popular Millennium Park brought showy contemporary art, architecture, and landscape design to Grant Park’s northern end, the southern end at Roosevelt Road remained a large grassy field, a seeming blank slate.
Not anymore. Last November, after three years of work, Magdalena Abakanowicz dedicated Agora, an installation that covers about three acres and is said to be the largest group of figurative sculptures in the world. It’s certainly the 77-year-old Warsaw artist’s most ambitious “crowd” piece, one of a series of figural groups that she’s been creating in various materials and permutations for museum exhibitions, sculpture parks, and other public spaces since the 1980s, evoking lockstep ideologies, historical memory, conformity and difference, and angst.