Naum Gabo

Naum Gabo is born in 1890, in Briansk, Russia. During his studies of medicine and engineering in Munich (1910 — 14), he travels to Paris, to Italy and Scandinavia, and in 1912 he begins his first sculptural work.

Between 1915 and 1916 Gabo creates first »constructive« sculptures that are clearly influenced by Cubism and Futurism. At the same time, they possess the character of works of engineering, fashioned according to strict scientific principles and achieving a spatial dimension through the abandonment of a formed mass. Gabo’s Konstruktiver Kopf Nr. 1 (1915) is assembled, comb-like, of sawed-out plywood.

With the outbreak of the »February Revolution« in 1917, Gabo and his brother, artist Antoine Pevsner, return to Moscow. In Moscow Gabo creates Kinetische Konstruktionen (1920), a work to be understood as a clear continuation of his concept of dematerialized sculpture. The impression of a sculpture that extends into space is created through a motor-driven, swinging metal rod that seems to give shape to an elliptical volume. The »Realistisches Manifest« summarizes Gabo’s ideas which he himself understands as a revolutionary theory and an artistic credo aiming at the renewal of established concepts of space and time. During the same year, the first and only public exhibition of his works in the USSR takes place – at a bandstand.

In order to organize an exhibition, Gabo goes to Berlin in 1922 and contacts the »Novembergruppe,« the Bauhaus, and De Stijl. For his spatial constructions he now uses materials such as glass, celluloid, metal, Perspex, and plastic. Aside from kinetic devices, he also creates »monuments«, like Säule (1922/23), set in motion by an electric motor, as well as stage decorations (La Chatte, 1926/27). Next to Lászlo Moholy-Nagy’s Licht-Raum-Modulator (1922/30), Gabo’s works dating from this time are considered predecessors of Op Art and Kinetics. Until 1932, numerous works are created for the public sphere, for example, Entwurf für einen Palast der Sowjets (1931).

After stays in Paris and England, Gabo emigrates to the United States in 1946. Already during his time in England, he develops a language of form which corresponds with his aim to achieve increasing transparency and fluent impressions of movement – still grounded in mathematical models. Transparent, bending surfaces that vibrate and extend into space emerge, first through incisions of transparent plastic (Sphärisches Thema: Transparente Variation ca. 1937). Eventually Gabo uses thin nylon threads that reflect the light, stretched over plastic rods (Lineare Raumkonstruktion Nr. 1 1942/45 — 49).

After World War II, Gabo continues with these experiments and increasingly integrates mechanical, magnetic, and electric devices. First monumental sculptures communicate his idea of the monumental, an idea which had already emerged in his early work (Hängende Raumkonstruktion, Baltimore 1950/51). The unrealized project of a sculpture for ESSO inspires his sculpture Lineare Raumkonstruktion Nr. 2 (1949/58). Further monumental works emerge in the years to follow (Bijenkorf-Konstruktion, 1956 — 57; Rotierende Drehung, Brunnen, 1972 — 73).

At the invitation of Walter Gropius, Naum Gabo gives lectures at Harvard University, Cambridge/Mass. In 1958 his works are presented in solo exhibitions in Rotterdam and Amsterdam. There is a comprehensive retrospective of his work in 1965/66 in Amsterdam, Mannheim, Zurich, Stockholm, and London.

Naum Gabo dies in 1977, in Waterbury/Conn.

Selected Literature

Hammer, Martin; Lodder, Christina: The Art and Career of Naum Gabo, New haven, London 2000

Merkert, Jörn (Hg.): Naum Gabo. Ein russischer Konstruktivist in Berlin 1922 — 1932, Berlin 1989

Merkert, Jörn; Nash, Steven A. (Hg.): Naum Gabo – Sechzig Jahre Konstruktivismus, München 1986

Bildrechte: VG Bild Kunst, Bonn 2014 Bildrechte: gemeinfrei, Foto: Peter Hinschläger Bildrechte: Calder Foundation New York / Foto Stiftung Lehmbruck Museum Foto: Tobias Roch, Hagen

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