Down at Tate StIves there’s a fantastic exhibition of the artist Naum Gabo. @Tate_StIves Tate StIves Naum Gabo
He was a pioneer of what was called international Constructivism and believed that art should impact positively on our everyday lives at work, in the home at rest and play. Art should have a social purpose ‘in order that the burning urge to live may never be extinguished in mankind.’ Nobel thoughts.
So how did Gabo attempt to make real his artistic philosophy? Quite simply by turning sculpture on its head. In my understanding of his approach, rather than sculpture being a solid mass, Gabo created shapes to enclose whilst exposing, space. ‘Stereometric’ or volume achieved without solid mass.
Space of course impacts on our everyday lives. Gabo claimed that space was his material and not the material substances that he utilised to reveal it. In so doing he of course makes us realise that the space is actually there.
Gabo was trained as an engineer and physical scientist. Knowledge, understanding and practice that he was clearly able to apply to his art and his concepts of space and indeed movement too. His Constructivist Manifesto of 1920 rejected traditions of art even those of more modern movements such as Cubism and Futurism and presumably Vorticism also. He was aiming at a totally fresh start. ‘Form and composition give way to a spatial solution of the object’ so believed the Moscow Constructivists amongst whom was none other than Vladimir Tatlin known for ‘Tatlin’s Tower’ a symbol of Revolutionary supremacy that was never built but followed Gabo’s philosophy of space being incorporated in monumental everyday objects.
In fact, it was his desire for monumentality that I believe has resulted in Gabo’s failure of his work to impact upon our everyday lives. His visions were too ambitious, too unrealistic, too symbolically and constructively impractical. In fact, according to the Tate exhibition there’s only one grand project on display and that’s in Rotterdam, the rest remain on the drawing board as concepts.
Nevertheless, Gabo’s smaller works as displayed at the Tate are clever and attractive works of art in their own right. Also, Gabo’s influence can clearly be seen in the work of Barbara Hepworth, and I would hazard a guess Antony Gormley too, especially the latter’s ‘Cave 2019’ and ‘Subject II 2019’ displayed at 2019’s Royal Academy exhibition.
My thoughts are that if only Gabo had used his philosophy, ideas, inventiveness and genus to really make a difference to our everyday lives, he could have made a much greater impact and thus have become more of a household name rather than somebody most people have never heard of. Tables, chairs, utensils, even vehicles and non-monumental common old buildings such as bus shelters.
Humm…a great exhibition that gets the old grey matter working.