Naum Gabo

1890–1977

Naum Gabo, ‘Head No. 2’ 1916, enlarged version 1964
Head No. 2 1916, enlarged version 1964
The Work of Naum Gabo © Nina & Graham Williams / Tate, 2018
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Artist biography

Naum Gabo 1890-1977

Constructive sculptor and painter. Born in Briansk in Russia, named Naum Pevsner; younger brother of the sculptor Antoine Pevsner. Entered Munich University in 1910, studying first medicine, then the natural sciences; also attended art history lectures by Wölfflin. Transferred in 1912 to an engineering school in Munich. Met Kandinsky and in 1913-14 joined his brother Antoine (then a painter) in Paris. After the outbreak of war moved first to Copenhagen, then Oslo; began to make constructions in 1915 under the name Naum Gabo. 1917-22 in Moscow with Pevsner, Tatlin, Kandinsky and Malevich; wrote and issued jointly with Pevsner in 1920 a Realistic Manifesto proclaiming the tenets of pure Constructivism. Lived 1922-32 in Berlin in contact with the artists of the de Stijl group and the Bauhaus. First one-man exhibition with Pevsner at the Galerie Percier, Paris, 1924. With Pevsner, designed the set and costumes for Diaghilev's ballet La Chatte 1926. 1932-5 in Paris, a member of Abstraction-Creation; 1935-46 in England, first in London, then from 1939 at Carbis Bay in Cornwall. Edited Circle jointly with J.L. Martin and Ben Nicholson in 1937. Moved in 1946 to the USA and settled in 1953 at Middlebury, Connecticut; became a US citizen in 1952. Professor at the Graduate School of Architecture at Harvard University 1953-4. From 1950 onwards carried out several large sculpture commissions, including a sculpture for the Bijenkorf store in Rotterdam 1955-7. Created Hon. KBE 1971. Died at Waterbury, Connecticut.

Published in:
Ronald Alley, Catalogue of the Tate Gallery's Collection of Modern Art other than Works by British Artists, Tate Gallery and Sotheby Parke-Bernet, London 1981, p.231

Wikipedia entry

Naum Gabo, born Naum Neemia Pevsner (5 August [O.S. 24 July] 1890 – 23 August 1977) (Hebrew: נחום נחמיה פבזנר), was an influential sculptor, theorist, and key figure in Russia's post-Revolution avant-garde and the subsequent development of twentieth-century sculpture. His work combined geometric abstraction with a dynamic organization of form in small reliefs and constructions, monumental public sculpture and pioneering kinetic works that assimilated new materials such as nylon, wire, lucite and semi-transparent materials, glass and metal. Responding to the scientific and political revolutions of his age, Gabo led an eventful and peripatetic life, moving to Berlin, Paris, Oslo, Moscow, London, and finally the United States, and within the circles of the major avant-garde movements of the day, including Cubism, Futurism, Constructivism, the Bauhaus, de Stijl and the Abstraction-Création group. Two preoccupations, unique to Gabo, were his interest in representing negative space—"released from any closed volume" or mass—and time. He famously explored the former idea in his Linear Construction works (1942-1971)—used nylon filament to create voids or interior spaces as "concrete" as the elements of solid mass—and the latter in his pioneering work, Kinetic Sculpture (Standing Waves) (1920), often considered the first kinetic work of art.

Gabo elaborated many of his ideas in the Constructivist Realistic Manifesto, which he issued with his brother, sculptor Antoine Pevsner as a handbill accompanying their 1920 open-air exhibition in Moscow. In it, he sought to move past Cubism and Futurism, renouncing what he saw as the static, decorative use of color, line, volume and solid mass in favor of a new element he called "the kinetic rhythms (…) the basic forms of our perception of real time." Gabo held a utopian belief in the power of sculpture—specifically abstract, Constructivist sculpture—to express human experience and spirituality in tune with modernity, social progress, and advances in science and technology. After working on a smaller scale in England during the war years (1936-1946), Gabo moved to the United States, where he received several public sculpture commissions, only some of which he completed. These include Constructie, an 81-foot commemorative monument in front of the Bijenkorf Department Store (1954, unveiled in 1957) in Rotterdam, and Revolving Torsion, a large fountain outside St Thomas Hospital in London. The Tate Gallery, London held a major retrospective of Gabo's work in 1966 and holds many key works in its collection, as do the Museum of Modern Art and Guggenheim Museum in New York.

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Gabo at Home

Home Movie of Naum Gabo by Clifford Chieffo, circa 1962

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Naum Gabo: Discovering the Archive

Art historian Christina Lodder introduces Gabo through his correspondence, writings, sketches and models, followed by a viewing of works in ...

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