Naum Gabo

Head No. 2

1916, enlarged version 1964

Not on display

Naum Gabo 1890–1977
Object: 1760 × 1240 × 1243 mm (192.2kg)
plinth: 670 × 1240 × 1243 mm (TBC)
Purchased 1972

Display caption

Naum Gabo was associated with the Constructivists at the time of the Russian Revolution of 1917. They saw an artistic renewal as part of the revolution and embraced new scientific theories and industrial materials. A method known as 'stereometric construction' was central to Gabo's work, by which form was achieved through the description of space rather than the establishment of mass. He declared in 1920: 'we take four planes and we construct with them the same volume as of four tons of mass.' In 1915-20 Gabo used planes to construct heads and figures that demonstrated the application of this method to traditional subjects. 'Head No.2' is a later enlargement of the most dramatic of these models.

Gallery label, August 2004

Does this text contain inaccurate information or language that you feel we should improve or change? We would like to hear from you.

Catalogue entry

Naum Gabo 1890-1977

T01520 Head No.2 1916 (enlarged version 1966)

Not inscribed
Cor-ten steel, 69 x 52 3/4 x 48 (175.3 x 134 x 122)
Purchased from the artist (Grant-in-Aid) 1972
Exh: Pioneers of Modern Sculpture, Hayward Gallery, London, July-September 1973 (102)
Lit: Herbert Read and Leslie Martin, Gabo: Constructions, Sculpture, Paintings, Drawings, Engravings (London 1957), pp.156, 182; Naum Gabo, Of Divers Arts (Washington 1962), pp.110-14; Alexei Pevsner, A Biographical Sketch of my Brothers Naum Gabo and Antoine Pevsner (Amsterdam 1964), p.14
Repr: Studio International, CLXXVIII, 1969, p.34

This is an exact enlargement made in 1966 of a sheet iron sculpture 'Constructed Head No.2' 45cm high, dating from 1916.

Gabo told the compiler on 21 June 1972 that he made the original Heads Nos. 1 and 2 in order to prove to himself and his friends in Norway, where he was then living, that the system of open construction which he had derived from the three-dimensional models made by physicists and mathematicians could be applied to any image and in particular to a traditional subject such as the human figure. 'Constructed Head No.1' was made in 1915 first in cardboard and then in plywood. He considered that it was only a partial success as it was insufficiently concave, especially in the lower section, so he went on to make 'Constructed Head No.2' which he felt embodied his ideas completely. The starting-point for it was a charcoal drawing of 1916 which depicted a woman in a hat with a veil, though the hat and veil are omitted from the sculpture itself.The sculpture is built out of pockets of space, with the metal ribs springing from a central axis. There is only a single convex element - a curved plane forming the figure's right shoulder - and even this is not closed. He was particularly interested in the possibility which this spatial freedom afforded of combining several different aspects of the same image (see, for instance, the series of photographs of this sculpture which he used to illustrate this point in one of his lectures published in Of Divers Arts, pp.110-14). If, when viewing the sculpture from the front, one thinks away certain of the shoulder details so that the neck is isolated from its background, the figure appears to be erect and alert, whereas the whole figure is of one of a person leaning forward in a hunched position with her hands resting in front of her. As one moves around the sculpture to the left (that is to say, to the figure's right), the head seems to turn also, until seen from the side, there is another complete face looking towards one. The other side, however, only has a profile view. Although there are certain superficial similarities to analytical Cubism, Gabo said that he regarded his aims, to create in terms of space, as completely different.

'Constructed Head No.2' was made first in cardboard and then in galvanised iron, which he later covered with yellow Ripolin mixed with sand as a protection against rust. It was included in the exhibition of recent Russian art at the Galerie van Diemen in Berlin in 1922, but was sent back to Russia after the exhibition closed instead of being returned direct to the artist, who had decided to settle in Berlin. Gabo then completely lost trace of it for over forty years and, assuming it to be lost, made a version in bronze about 1958-9 the same size (45cm high) as a replacement, which is slightly different in some of its details. However the original was brought out of Russia in pieces about 1964-5 and reassembled. As the yellow paint had begun to come off, creating a very ugly surface, he thought it best to remove it.

He afterwards made four further versions, starting with one 94cm high in Cor-ten steel (a steel widely used for building purposes which rusts but is self-sealing) made about 1965. This was followed by three monumental enlargements all 175cm high: first the one in Cor-ten steel now in the Tate Gallery, which according to Mrs Gabo and Charles Wilson, Gabo's assistant, was made in 1966 and not 1964 as has sometimes been stated; second another in Cor-ten steel of a slightly different thickness made in 1966-7; and third and finally one in stainless steel. Apart from the Tate's work and the one 94cm high, which belongs to Oslo University, they are all still owned by Mrs Gabo.

Gabo told the compiler in 1972 that he intended to carry out this sculpture on at least this scale from the beginning and that he had the possibility in mind of making one several times the size.

This version was on loan to the Tate from 1969 until acquired.

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, pp.263-4, reproduced p.263


You might like

In the shop