In the Realistic Manifesto, published in Moscow in 1920, Naum Gabo and his brother Antoine Pevsner announced a new form of art based on space and time. It was, they claimed, an affirmative response to the new world order that had emerged over the last twenty years. They argued that the radical disturbance of old certainties in the sciences (particularly physics), in society (for example, the Great War and the Russian Revolution) and in art (notably Cubism and Futurism), had so weakened established perceptions of reality that a new model was needed for understanding existence. They maintained that since life happens in real space and time, only art that incorporated these elements could contribute to a constructive understanding of it.
The fifth fundamental principle of this manifesto stated, 'We renounce the thousand-year-old delusion in art that held the static rhythms as the only elements of the plastic and pictorial arts. We affirm in these arts a new element the kinetic rhythms as the basic forms of our perception of real time' (quoted in Naum Gabo: The Constructive Process, p.25). Model for 'Rotating Fountain' is a literal manifestation of this principle. The proposed rotation of the sculpture would have made the duration of real time palpable to the viewer, as would the flow of water.
The use of see-through plastic introduced space as a sculptural material alongside the more traditional element of mass. The transparency of the two compartments at the centre of the construction, for example, makes the space contained within them part of the work. However, Gabo did not propose that space should replace mass in sculpture. In this construction, the mass and solidity of the opaque elements counterbalance the dematerialising transparency of the clear plastic elements. The introduction of time and space as sculptural materials was intended to extend the existing language of sculpture so that it might reflect the new perception of reality.
Gabo's commitment to the public siting of his artworks and the titles he gave them reflect the social role he envisaged for art. The title of Model for 'Rotating Fountain' suggests that a large-scale rotating fountain based on this design was planned, and indeed circa 1925-27 such a fountain was commissioned for a private garden in Dresden. It has since been destroyed.
The piece was exhibited with the title Construction in El Lissitzky's 'Raum der Abstrackten' in the group show Internationale Kunst Austellung, Dresden, 1926. The current title was only conferred on the work at the Gabo: Konstruktive Plastik exhibition, Kestner-Geselleschaft, Hanover in 1930. For many years the model was thought to be lost, but in 1977, after the artist's death, it was found in pieces in his attic. It was later reconstructed by Charles Wilson, Gabo's studio assistant from 1960-77. The four black feet at the base are the only components that are not original.
Gabo: The Constructed Idea: Sculpture, Drawings, Paintings, Monoprints, exhibition catalogue, South Bank Centre, London 1987, reproduced p.12
Steven A Nash and Jörn Merkert, Naum Gabo: Sixty Years of Constructivism, Munich 1985, reproduced p.209
Naum Gabo: The Constructive Process, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1976