Naum Gabo

Kinetic Stone Carving


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Not on display
Naum Gabo 1890–1977
Portland stone
Object: 255 x 365 x 255 mm, 30.2 kg
Presented by Nina Williams, the artist's daughter, in memory of her mother, Miriam Gabo 1995


Created from a single block of Portland stone, Kinetic Stone Carving was Naum Gabo’s first pure carving. It was begun in London in 1936 and followed directly on from Construction: Stone with a Collar, 1933, this version c.1936-7 (Tate T06975), a work which incorporated both carved and constructed elements. Kinetic Stone Carving similarly addressed the relationship of mass and space through carving. Tempering the ideas expressed in his 1920 Realistic Manifesto, where he had rejected sculptural mass in favour of space, Gabo now believed that by ‘adding Space perception to the perception of Masses, emphasising it and forming it, we enrich the expression of Mass ... through the contrast between them whereby Mass retains its solidity and Space its extension’ (‘Sculpture: Carving and Construction in Space’, in J.L. Martin, Ben Nicholson and Naum Gabo (eds.), Circle: International Survey of Constructive Art, London 1937, p.108).

With Kinetic Stone Carving, Gabo also pursued his investigations into movement. His fascination with kinetics and commitment to expressing both movement and time in his sculpture were first addressed in 1920, when he renounced ‘the thousand-year-old delusion in art that held the static rhythms as the only elements of the plastic and pictorial arts’. He affirmed instead ‘a new element the kinetic rhythms as the basic forms of our perception of real time’ (‘The Realistic Manifesto’ 1920, reprinted in Naum Gabo: Sixty Years of Constructivism, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1987, p.9). In his first kinetic work, Kinetic Construction (Standing Wave) 1919-20, replica 1985 (Tate T00827), a strip of metal was made to oscillate to form a standing wave, thus creating the illusion of volumetric space. While there is no actual movement in this stone work, Gabo was attempting, perhaps more daringly, to express dynamism in a solid mass. The curving dips, ridges and folds carved into the surface of Kinetic Stone Carving suggest a circular rhythm which animates the solid and static material of the stone. As he later wrote, ‘space penetrates everything. Your eyes can’t penetrate the stone, but by following the contours on the surface I want your consciousness to become aware of the interior spaces and dynamic forces’ (quoted in Hammer and Lodder 2000, p.250). The notion of dynamic forces and centrifugal energies also relates to Gabo’s interest in science, particularly to ideas in modern physics which pictured the physical universe as a continuous field of forces.

Gabo returned to this sculpture and completed it in 1944, while working on a commission for a new car design for the British firm Jowett Cars. In the interim he had developed his carving techniques further, experimenting with a number of smaller works in quartz, alabaster and granite. His fascination with direct carving from the mid-1930s, and with the surfaces and textures of stone in particular, had been directly influenced by his close allegiance with Barbara Hepworth (1903-75) and Henry Moore (1898-1986), both of whom lived and worked close to him in Lawn Road, Hampstead. His interest in carving persisted, and he continued to explore the colour and grain of different rocks and stones for the rest of his career.

Further Reading:
Martin Hammer and Christina Lodder, Constructing Modernity: The Art and Career of Naum Gabo, New Haven and London 2000, pp.248-50, 297, reproduced pl.168 and pl.169
Martin Hammer and Christina Lodder, Gabo’s Stones, exhibition catalogue, The Centre for the Study of Sculpture, Leeds City Art Gallery 1995, reproduced p.3
Steven A. Nash and Jörn Merkert (eds.), Naum Gabo: Sixty Years of Constructivism, Munich 1985, reproduced p.87 in colour and p.109

Jacky Klein
August 2002

Display caption

When Gabo first set down his ideas on constructive sculpture in his ‘Realistic Manifesto’ in 1920, he dismissed the traditional carving of solid mass. Instead, he asserted sculpture’s description of space through construction. However, in the mid–1930s, he modified this view with a number of carved works in which he sought to convey space through a massive object. In works such as this he used the curling edges to articulate the space around the solid stone from which the work was made.

Gallery label, May 2007

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