SCULPTURE BETWEEN THE WARS
Soon after arriving in Berlin, Gabo was in touch with
De Stijl, the Dutch group.
Its only true sculptor was the Belgian Georges Vantongerloo (1886-1965), who settled in Paris. He, too, was obsessed
with the problem of how to represent space. Metal: v=axj3bx3+cx (fig.
1132) is a daring prefiguration of Minimalist sculpture of the 1950s and
1960s. Whereas Mondrian's grids were never governed by strict ratios,
Vantongerloo used the same bands to articulate space by establishing
precise relationships as defined by the algebraic formula. The artist,
however, saw this method as a means of expressing an intuition of
which is infinite and is perceived only through our sensitivity. His
was indeed an ecstatic vision: "O! The incommensurable is never the
same; if it were, it would be commensurable. And as the universe is
incommensurable, what we need is an expression that would have neither
end nor beginning; and this too exists." Ultimately this realization led
him to abandon his sparse geometry for a curvilinear approach, based not
on classical Euclidian geometry but on Cartesian analytical geometry, to
describe parabolic equations.
Emanuel Hoffmann Foundation,
Basel, on loan to Kunstmuseum Basel
Construction within a sphere
Georges Vantongerloo (24 November 1886, Antwerp–5 October
1965, Paris) was a Belgian abstract sculptor and painter and
founding member of the De Stijl group
From 1905 to 1909 Vantongerloo studied Fine Art at the Fine
Art Academies in Antwerp and Brussels. Conscripted into
World War I, he was wounded in a gas attack and discharged
from the army in 1914. During 1916 he met Theo Van Doesburg
and the following year he was a co-signator of the first
manifesto of the De Stijl group. Vantongerloo moved to Paris
in 1927 and began a correspondence with the Belgian Prime
Minister, Henri Jaspar in relation to the design of a bridge
over the Scheldt at Antwerp. In 1930 he joined the Cercle et
Carré group in Paris and a year later he was a founding
member of Abstraction-Création.
Contrary to what one might have expected, the everyday
materials of Synthetic Cubism proved of far greater interest to painters
than to the Cubist sculptors, who maintained a traditional allegiance to
bronze. After World War I sculptors in France largely forsook
abstraction and abandoned Expressionism altogether. Only the
Jacques Lipchitz (1891-1973), a friend of both Picasso
and Matisse, continued to explore the possibilities offered by Cubism.
He also shared in Brancusi's primevalism, and in the mid-1920s he
achieved a remarkable synthesis of these two tendencies. With its
intently staring eyes, figure (fig. 1133) is a haunting
evocation in Cubist terms of African sculpture. Consisting of two
interlocking figures, it creates a play of open and closed forms that
relieves Brancusi's austere simplicity through arabesque rhythms akin to
those of Matisse. Not surprisingly, the patron who commissioned it as a
garden sculpture found it difficult to live with Figure. No other
sculptor at the time was able to rival Lipschitz for sheer power, and he
set an important example for the generation of sculptors that reached
maturity a decade later.
Jacques Lipchitz. Figure.
1926-30. Bronze, height 217 cm.
Collection, The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Jacques Lipchitz, original name Chaim Jacob Lipchitz (born
August 10 [August 22, New Style], 1891, Druskininkai,
Lithuania, Russian Empire—died May 26, 1973, Capri, Italy),
Russian-born French sculptor whose style was based on the
principles of Cubism; he was a pioneer of
As a youth, Lipchitz studied engineering
in Vilnius, Lithuania. When he moved to Paris in 1909,
however, he became fascinated by French avant-garde art, and
he began to study sculpture as an avenue to better
understand modern art. After a brief term of service
(1912–13) in the imperial Russian army, Lipchitz returned to
Paris. There the Mexican muralist Diego Rivera introduced
him to Pablo Picasso, the painter who (with Georges Braque)
had created the Cubist style about 1907. Lipchitz soon began
to translate the pictorial experiments of Cubist painters
into three-dimensional sculpture, as in Man with Guitar
(1916). Lipchitz worked exclusively in solid blocks of
material or in low-relief still lifes to simulate the
polychromatic prisms of Cubist paintings.
About 1925 Lipchitz began to produce a
series of sculptures collectively known as “transparents.”
In these curvilinear bronzes, he incorporated open space
into the design, depicting mass by integrating solid with
void. Many of the transparents, such as Harpist (1928), were
cast from small, fragile cardboard-and-wax constructions.
Lipchitz translated some of these smaller pieces into
sculptures on a more monumental scale, as in Figure
(1926–30). With such transparents as The Couple (1928–29),
Lipchitz attempted to express emotion instead of merely
addressing formal concerns, as he had in his earlier works.
By 1941, when he moved to New York City,
Lipchitz had established an international reputation. His
new interest in spiritual questions coincided with a revived
desire to give his pieces solidity, notably in massive works
such as The Prayer (1943) and Prometheus Strangling the
Vulture II (1944–53). He completed his last large work,
Bellerophon Taming Pegasus, in 1966; it was installed at
Columbia University in New York City in 1977.