Naum Gabo

Spiral Theme


Not on display

Naum Gabo 1890–1977
Plastics (cellulose acetate and polymethyl methacrylate)
Object: 140 × 244 × 244 mm
Presented by Miss Madge Pulsford 1958

Display caption

When Spiral Theme was shown in wartime London, it was greeted with popular acclaim. The transparent planes build upon and reveal the sections below, suggesting emergence and growth. The critic Herbert Read hailed it as 'the highest point ever reached by the aesthetic intuition of man'. Gabo confessed: 'It is still a mystery and puzzle to me as to what precisely it is ... that has moved their hearts.'

Gallery label, December 2000

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Catalogue entry

Naum Gabo 1890-1977

T00190 Spiral Theme 1941

Inscribed 'NG' (monogram) in one corner
Plastic, 5 1/2 x 9 5/8 x 9 5/8 (14 x 24.4 x 24.4)
Presented by Miss Madge Pulsford 1958
Prov: Miss Madge Pulsford, Woking (purchased from the artist 1946)
Exh: New Movements in Art. Contemporary Work in England, London Museum, London, March-May 1942 (L) as 'Construction in Space-Spiral Theme' 1941; Naum Gabo, Tate Gallery, March-April 1966 (14); Naum Gabo: The Constructive Process, Tate Gallery, November 1976-January 1977 (69, repr.)
Repr: The Listener, XXVII, 1942, p.376; Herbert Read and Leslie Martin, Gabo: Constructions, Sculpture, Paintings, Drawings, Engravings (London 1957), pl.80

Gabo told the compiler in a letter of 13 August 1958 that this work was made when he was living in Cornwall: 'The "Spiral Theme" is not a maquette - it is, like all my work, actually intended to be made bigger - but I have never done it, so it remains as such ... This piece which Miss Pulsford had, was actually the first one made by me of this work in this size. I have actually made a very tiny one [T02181], about three inches wide, a tiny model, before executing this particular work. This particular work was the one exhibited in the London Museum in 1942. The one in the Museum of Modern Art is a duplicate which I did afterwards for the Museum of Modern Art. It is slightly different from the one which you have as the Modern Museum one has a specially made base. But the actual work itself is almost identical'.

The version in the Museum of Modern Art, New York, is slightly larger, 19 x 34.5 x 24cm and is on a more complex base consisting of two sheets of black plastic fastened about 5 cm apart. The upper base is 40.5cm square, and the lower one 61cm square.

The correspondence files of the Museum of Modern Art show that James Thrall Soby first became interested in this sculpture on reading an enthusiastic description of it by Herbert Read in Horizon, V, 1942, pp.267-9 in a review of the London Museum exhibition, and made an offer for it on condition that Gabo should take the risk for its safe delivery in New York. Gabo preferred to wait and send the work when the war was over, and that was what happened. He eventually delivered it to the Museum in March 1947, a few months after his move to the USA.

Gabo was uncertain exactly when the MOMA version was made and in a letter to Dorothy Miller of January 964 even said that it was done first and was exhibited at the London Museum. When it was pointed out that this conflicted with what he had told the Tate, he retracted what he had just said and added (in a letter of March 1964) that, as far as he could remember, he must have made both pieces during the winter of 1941, the Pulsford version being the first.

He told Miss Pulsford in a letter of 18 March 1946 that the work she was buying from him had been exhibited in the London Museum in 1942. The reproduction in The Listener, 19 March 1942, to illustrate a review of this exhibition, appears to show this version.

(Information about the Museum of Modern Art version was kindly provided by Judith Cousins).

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.250-1, reproduced p.250


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