SCULPTURE BETWEEN THE WARS
applied this principle to relief sculpture
and arrived at what might be called three-dimensional collage.
In Analytic Cubism, concave and convex were postulated as equivalents.
All volumes, whether positive or negative, were "pockets of space." The
Constructivists, a group of Russian artists led by
Eventually the final step was taken of making the works
free-standing. According to Tatlin and his followers, these
"constructions" were actually four-dimensional: since they implied
motion, they also implied time.
Constructivism were therefore closely related, and in fact overlapped, for both had their origins in Cubo-Futurism.
They were nonetheless separated by a fundamental difference in approach.
For Tatlin, art was not the Suprematists' spiritual contemplation but
an active process of formation that was based on material and technique.
He believed that each material dictates specific forms that are inherent
in it, and that these must be followed it the work of art was to be
valid according to the laws of life itself. In the end, Constructivism
won out over Suprematism because it was better suited to the
post-Revolution temperament of Russia, when great deeds, not great
thoughts, were needed.
Cut off from artistic contact with Europe during World War I,
Constructivism developed into a uniquely Russian art that was little
affected by the return of some of the country's most important artists,
such as Kandinsky and Chagall. The Revolution galvanized the modernists,
who celebrated the overthrow of the old regime with a creative
outpouring throughout Russia.
Tatlin's model for a Monument to the Third International (fig.
1130) captures the
dynamism of the technological Utopia envisioned under Communism. Pure
energy is expressed as lines of force that establish new time-space
relationships as well. The work also implies a new social structure, for
the Constructivists believed in the power of art literally to reshape
society. This extraordinary tower revolving at three speeds was
conceived on a monumental scale, complete with Communist Party offices. Like other such projects, however, it was wildly
impractical in a society still recovering from the ravages of war and
revolution and was never built.
Constructivism subsequently proceeded to a Productivist phase, which
ignored any contradiction between true artistic creativity and purely
utilitarian production. After the movement had been suppressed as
"bourgeois formalism," a number of its members emigrated to the West,
where they joined forces with the few movements still espousing
Vladimir Tatlin. Project tor Monument to the Third International.
Wood, iron, and glass, height 6.1 m.
Vladimir Yevgrafovich Tatlin, (born Dec. 16 [Dec. 28, New
Style], 1885, Kharkov, Russian Empire [now in Ukraine]—died
May 31, 1953, Moscow, Russia, U.S.S.R.), Ukrainian painter,
sculptor, and architect remembered for his visionary
“Monument to the Third International” in Moscow, 1920.
Tatlin was educated at the Moscow Academy
of Fine Arts, graduating in 1910. Late in 1913 he went to
Paris, where he visited Pablo Picasso, whose reliefs in
sheet iron, wood, and cardboard made a deep impression on
him. Returning to Moscow, Tatlin created constructions that
he called “painting reliefs,” which he exhibited at a
Futurist exhibition held in Petrograd (now St. Petersburg)
in February 1915. He became the leader of a group of Moscow
artists who tried to apply engineering techniques to the
construction of sculpture. This developed into a movement
known as Constructivism.
This type of avant-garde art continued for
a brief period after the Russian Revolution of 1917, during
which time Tatlin created his most famous work—the “Monument
to the Third International,” which was one of the first
buildings conceived entirely in abstract terms. It was
commissioned in 1919 by the department of fine arts and
exhibited in the form of a model 22 feet (6.7 m) high at the
exhibition of the VIII Congress of the Soviets in December
1920. A striking design, it consisted of a leaning spiral
iron framework supporting a glass cylinder, a glass cone,
and a glass cube, each of which could be rotated at
different speeds. The monument’s interior would have
contained halls for lectures, conferences, and other
activities. The monument was to be the world’s tallest
structure—more than 1,300 feet (396 m) tall—but it was never
built owing to the Soviet government’s disapproval of
About 1927 Tatlin began experimentation
with a glider that resembled a giant insect. The glider,
which he called Letatlin, never flew, but it engaged his
interest throughout his later life. After 1933 he worked
largely as a stage designer.
The most important of these was
(1890-1977), who went first to
Berlin, then to England, before settling in America after World War TI.
His main contribution to modern art came in the early
1940s, when he created a new kind
of plastic construction strung with nylon filament (fig.
1131) that comes very close to
mathematical models. Although he arrived at it through intuition, the
parallels to contemporary scientific theory are astonishing, for his
work embodies much the same spatiality as modern physics. Gabo was
fascinated by the links between art and science, which, he said, "arise
from the same creative source and flow into the same ocean of the common
culture. " Like
Kandinsky's, his motives were purely spiritual, and he saw
Constructivism as a vehicle of change. None of this, however, accounts
for the elegance of Gabo's linear constructions, which embody an
entirely modern sensibility.
Linear Construction in Space No. 1.
Plexiglass and nylon thread on plexiglass base.
Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. Smithsonian Institution, Washington
Naum Gabo, original name Naum Neemia Pevsner (born August 5,
1890, Bryansk, Russia—died August 23, 1977, Waterbury,
Connecticut, U.S.), pioneering Constructivist sculptor who
used materials such as glass, plastic, and metal and created
a sense of spatial movement in his work.
Gabo studied medicine and natural science,
then philosophy and art history, at the University of Munich
in Germany; he also took engineering classes at the
Technical University in Munich. In 1913 he walked from
Munich to Florence and Venice, viewing many works of art and
architecture along the way. Early in his life he changed his
name to Gabo in order to distinguish himself from his
brother Antoine Pevsner, a painter.
While visiting Pevsner in Paris in
1913–14, Gabo met the artist Alexander Archipenko and others
involved with the avant-garde. During World War I he lived
with Pevsner in Oslo, Norway. There, Gabo produced his first
Cubist-influenced figurative sculptures, exemplified by
Constructed Head No. 2 (1916), which he executed in
celluloid and metal. The brothers also began to experiment
along the Constructivist lines laid down by their fellow
Russian Vladimir Tatlin. Constructivist sculpture as
practiced by Tatlin had definite political implications, but
Gabo was more interested in its use of modern technology and
Returning to Russia after the Revolution,
Gabo and Pevsner saw political forces redirect Russian art
from exploration to propaganda. In 1920 the two brothers
issued the Realistic Manifesto of Constructivism, which they
posted and distributed in the streets of Moscow. In it they
asserted that art had a value and function independent of
the state, and that geometric principles should be the basis
for sculpture. They advocated the use of transparent
materials to define volumes of empty space instead of solid
mass. In 1920 Gabo produced Kinetic Composition, a
motor-driven sculpture that demonstrated his principles by
incorporating elements of space and time.
Gabo left Russia in 1922 and lived for 10
years in Berlin, where he worked with László Moholy-Nagy and
other artists of the Bauhaus. During the 1920s Gabo
continued to create monumental constructions out of glass,
metal, and plastic. In 1932 he went to Paris, where he
joined the Abstraction-Création group, an association of
artists that advocated pure abstraction. He lived in England
from 1936 to 1946, promoting Constructivism there by editing
the collective manifesto Circle in 1937 with the abstract
painter Ben Nicholson. Curves replaced angles in Gabo’s new
spatial constructions made of taut wire and plastic thread.
He moved to the United States in 1946, and in 1953–54 he
taught at the Harvard Graduate School of Architecture.
During the 1950s Gabo received several commissions for
public sculptures, only some of which he completed, such as
the large commemorative monument for the Bijenkorf
department store (1954, unveiled in 1957) in Rotterdam,
Linear Construction in Space No. 2
Construction in Space with Crystalline Centre.
Spheric Theme: Translucent Variation.
Construction through a Plane.
Construction in Space
Model for 'Construction in Space 'Two Cones''.
Construction in a Niche.
Model for 'Linear Construction No. 3 with Red'
Constructivist Head No. 1
Head of a Woman
Model for 'Constructed Torso'
Construction: Stone with a Collar.