Art Concret

Feeling threatened by the rise of Surrealism, devotees of abstraction and non-objective art felt the need to join forces. Two rival formations emerged: Michel Seuphor and Joaquín Torres-García’s Cercle et Carré, launched in March 1930, which brought together creators from all disciplines and all modernist styles from figurative Cubism to Constructivism and De Stijl; and van Doesburg’s Art Concret, established the following month, whose aesthetic foundations were so absolutist that the majority of artists he approached transferred their allegiance to the opposing camp. Only the young artists Léon Tutundjian, Jean Hélion, Otto Carlsund and Marcel Wantz signed the Art Concret manifesto, while Walmar Shwab accepted solely to feature in the accompanying pamphlet. Their proclamation called for a universal art composed of planes and colours executed crisply, precisely, mechanically. Form and rhythm were governed by mathematical principles, while abstract cinema provided a model of combining space and time in a single work of art. More radically, it also affirmed that ‘a work of art must be entirely designed and formed by the mind prior to execution’ and that ‘a pictorial element possesses no significance other than itself’. By summer 1930, both groups had dissolved.

On February 12, 1931, van Doesburg founded a third group entitled Abstraction-Création exclusively devoted to non-figurative art: ‘Abstraction because some artists have attained the conception of non-figuration by the progressive abstraction of natural forms. Creation because other artists have attained ‘non-figuration’ directly by a purely geometrical conception of order or by the exclusive use of elements commonly termed abstract, such as circles, planes, bars, lines, etc.’ On this consensual basis, this new international grouping was to survive for six years and be joined by some hundred members, including Arshile Gorky. Van Doesburg himself died of a heart attack on 7 March 1931, just a few weeks after the group’s inception.

Theo van Doesburg Simultaneous Countra Composition 1930 abstract geometric painting

Theo van Doesburg
Simultaneous Countra Composition 1930

© 2010 Museum of Modern Art, New York / Scala, Florence