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Naum Gabo Essay

Naum Gabo, a pioneer of constructive art, was born Naum Neemia Pevsner in Russia in 1890. He began making constructed sculpture in Norway in 1915, when he took the name of Gabo. He and his brother Antoine Pevsner, returned to Russia at the time of the Revolution. In 1920 Gabo wrote the Realistic Manifesto, an expression of the aims and philosophy behind his art, which was signed by Antoine and was posted on the streets of Moscow. In 1922 Gabo left Russia for Berlin, to exhibit in the Erste Russische Kunstaustellung (The First Russian Art Exhibition) at the Van Diemen Galerie.

He did not return to Russia until he visited his remaining family in 1962, but lived and worked in Berlin until 1932, making constructed sculptures and a number of architectural projects. In 1932 he left Germany for Paris remaining there until 1936, when he went to England. During his time there, he edited Circle: International Survey of Constructive Art (1937) with Leslie Martin and Ben Nicholson; he participated in a number of exhibitions and married Miriam Israels in 1936. He visited and exhibited in the USA in 1938 but spent the war in Cornwall, where his daughter, Nina, was born. The family left England to settle in the USA in 1946.

Gabo exhibited widely in both the USA and Europe, and lectured at Yale, Harvard, and Chicago. He took American citizenship in 1952, taught at the Harvard University Graduate School of Architecture (1953-54) and delivered the A.W. Mellon Lectures in 1959 in Washington DC. He completed a number of large commissions, including a 25 metre high free standing sculpture for the Bijenkorf Building in Rotterdam. In 1971 he was awarded an Honorary KBE by Queen Elizabeth ll. He continued to receive honours, prizes, commissions and international recognition until the end of his life. He died in Connecticut in 1977.

Here is a list of publications: • Naum Gabo Monoprints, Alan Cristea Gallery, London, 2006. • Naum Gabo and Colour, Annely Juda Fine Art, London, 2004. • Gabo on Gabo, Hammer & Lodder (eds), Artists Bookworks, Forest Row, Sussex, 2002. • Constructing Modernity, the Art and Career of Naum Gabo, Hammer & Lodder, Yale University Press, New Haven & London, 2000. • Naum Gabo, Annely Juda Fine Art, London, 1999.

• Naum Gabo 1890-1977, Annely Juda Fine Art, London, 1990. • Naum Gabo Ein Russicher Konstrucktivist in Berlin 1922-1932, Berlinische Galerie, Berlin, 1989. • Naum Gabo Monoprints, Graham Williams (ed.), The Florin Press, Biddenden, Kent, 1987. • Naum Gabo Sixty Years of Constructivism, Nash & Merkert (eds.), Prestel Verlag, Munich, 1985. Includes the Catalogue Raisonné and a complete Chronology. (Also published in German). • An Appreciation of Naum Gabo, Andrew Forge, The Florin Press, Biddenden, Kent, 1985. • Naum Gabo The Constructive Process, Tate Gallery, London, 1976. • Of Divers Arts, A.W. Mellon Lectures 1959, Naum Gabo, Bollingen Press, and Princeton University Press, Pantheon Books, New York, 1962. • GABO, Herbert Read and Leslie Martin, Lund Humphries, London, 1957. • Circle, Nicholson, Gabo and Martin, Faber & Faber, London, 1937.

In the aftermath of the Russian Revolution, when this work was made, materials were hard to come by. ‘It was the height of civil war, hunger and disorder in Russia. To find any part of machinery was next to impossible’, said Gabo. Originally made to demonstrate the principles of kinetics to his students, it reflects the artist’s belief in a sculpture in which space and time were active components. A strip of metal is made to oscillate so that a standing wave is set up. This movement in real time creates the illusion of volumetric space.

One famous work of Naum Gabo is the ‘Standing Wave’. It is created out of metal, painted wood and an electrical mechanism. The object itself is a 616 x 241 x 190mm sculpture. In the aftermath of the Russian Revolution, when Gabo’s work was made, materials were hard to come by. ‘It was the height of civil war, hunger and disorder in Russia. To find any part of machinery was next to impossible.

The Kinetic Construction was originally made to demonstrate the principles of kinetics to his students. A strip of metal is made to oscillate so that a standing wave is set up. This movement in real time creates the illusion of volumetric space. This work was made in Moscow in the winter of 1919-20 and was first exhibited in the open-air exhibition in the Tverskoi Boulevard there in August 1920 of works by Gabo, Pevsner and several younger artists arranged to coincide with the publication of the Realistic Manifesto.

Gabo was particularly interesting in working with volume, time, and space; he was always going on about the importance of controlling space in a sculpture. The standing waves had attracted his attention since his student days, in particular the fact that when you look at a standing wave, the image becomes three-dimensional. In order to show what he meant by calling for the introduction of kinetic rhythms into a constructed sculpture, he chose that standing wave as a good illustration of the idea. Therefore he decided to construct a standing wave which would be vibrating on one fixed point and rigid enough to be indeed a “standing wave”.

After a lot of experimenting he arranged the bar in such a way that at the base of it were two separate springs which would touch the spring on which the iron bar was fixed. Gabo arranged the springs in such a way that together they would produce a rhythmic standing wave, co-ordinating each other’s vibration.Of course a project as large and as different as the standing wave would have some problems. He had to change many springs. He had to choose the length, strength, and elasticity of each one; He had to attach a kind of a brake to the main spring on which the bar was which would regulate the primary movement of the bar.

He also had to balance out the steel rod so that the wave would be staying in the same dimensions and not jump out and divide itself into two waves. He solved the problem by fastening to the rod two balancing gadgets, one at the bottom of the rod and one at the top. At the bottom Gabo made a ring, fixed into a particular point at the base of the rod, which produced the beginning of the wave. At the top of the rod, two small triangular pieces of plastic regulated the height of the wave. Later on, by choosing a stronger steel rod, this last arrangement proved to be unnecessary’. Something Gabo really understood was the concept of trial and error, which is, and important skill to any artist. Kinetic Construction “Standing Wave” was the earliest of Gabo’s experiments with motion in sculpture and one of the first true kinetic sculptures. Gabo did continue his experiments.


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