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Naum Gabo Sculptures, Art and His Artistic Legacy

5th August, ON THIS DAY

The sixth of seven siblings, Gabo was born Naum Pevsner in the tiny Russian town of Bryansk. The Pevsners were a sizable, close-knit, patriarchal middle-class family led by the charismatic and imposing Boris and Fanny. Despite the fact that Boris was Jewish, the siblings were raised as Christians thanks to the influence of their Russian Orthodox grandmother, and Naum throughout most of his life would distance himself from his Jewish heritage. Many of Russia’s rails were supplied by the prosperous metalworks and rolling mill controlled by Boris Pevsner. While two of his elder brothers pursued professions in engineering, the young Naum used this opportunity to get familiar with many of the industrial materials that would later serve as inspiration for his work.

His life was one of the archetypal creative émigré, as he travelled from country to country seeking new environments for his work, in escape from war and tyranny. Naum Gabo’s architecturally complex, mesmerising abstract sculptures cast a shadow over the entirety of 20th-century art. When he was a young man in Russia during the Revolution, Gabo was directly involved with Constructivism, which aimed to conflate the lines between creative and practical processes. He blended engineering and architectural ideas into his artistic investigations and utilised his sculptures to explain and illustrate cutting-edge scientific theories like Einstein’s theory of space-time relativity. After engaging in a number of ideologies and groups, Gabo finally made his way to the United States following World War II.His life and work, like those of all the greatest artists, were substantially moulded by the time he lived in and contributed to the definition of that time.

Courtesy: The Art Story


Gabo thought that art ought to have a clear purpose in society. He created intricate architectural blueprints himself while studying engineering and architecture, and he imitated and displayed cutting-edge methods from those professions in his sculptures. This aspect of his work, which was first created to affect the mentality of the new Soviet citizen, had a profound impact on a complete paradigm in 20th-century art: the notion of erasing the distinctions between creative and practical processes.

The ability to employ void as a sculpture’s element was one of Gabo’s greatest breakthroughs. He was able to more readily include space into his sculptures by building them from sets of interlocking parts as opposed to carving or shaping them from inert mass. Gabo’s use of space within sculpture, which aims to illustrate concepts from contemporary geometry and physics, is comparable to Stéphane Mallarmé’s incorporation of page space into poetry and John Cage’s incorporation of silence into music in that they all represent a contemporary, secular concern with expressing both the unknown and the known—with void as well as form.

Gabo’s work is at the vanguard of a complete creative tradition called Kinetic Art, which employs art to depict time as well as space. This history is characterised by the incorporation of moving pieces into sculptures or static materials that clearly indicate movement. In fact, his Kinetic Construction from 1920 is frequently regarded as the pioneering piece of Kinetic Art. From this point forward, Gabo’s artwork featured or implied what he called “kinetic rhythms,” which served to remind the audience of the basically modern finding that time and space only exist in relation to one another. Albert Einstein discovered this discovery first.

Naum Gabo’s significant artwork:

1. Constructed Head No. 2

Constructed Head No. 2 is a figurative bust that Gabo constructed while seeking asylum in Norway during World War One. It is one of four such pieces that define his early career. This Madonna-like sculpture, which is made of flat plywood planes that are intersected, alludes to the icon paintings that Gabo would have seen in Russian Orthodox home interiors. Icon paintings are typically positioned high up in the corner of the room, as if looking over the occupants below. Depending on the point of view, the lighting, and other environmental elements, the busts’ appearance continually changes and modulates. 

Courtesy: Tate

2. Kinetic Construction (Standing Wave)

By Gabo’s standards, this build, which consists of a basic steel rod attached to a wooden base, is rather straightforward. The oscillations of the rod, however, provide a beautifully complex picture of a freestanding, twisting wave when they are moved by an electric motor. Gabo’s first motorised sculpture, Kinetic Construction, showcased his ground-breaking use of engineering methods and scientific ideas. It debuted in 1920 to rave reviews from the critics. 

Courtesy: The Art Story


Gabo had a significant impact on contemporary art, despite the fact that art history texts occasionally understate this. He made a significant contribution to the growth of constructivist aesthetics by blurring the lines between sculpture and architecture, incorporating engineering principles into his creative process, and employing commercial materials. Theo van Doesburg, Max Bill, and Joseph Albers, mid-century Concrete Artists, were among the younger artists Gabo inspired in Northern Europe. British sculptors Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth were also influenced by Gabo’s use of stringing techniques and the incorporation of empty space into the sculpture’s body. Gabo’s groundbreaking kinetic sculpture experiments were advanced by artists like Marcel Duchamp and Alexander Calder as well as the Kinetic Art movement of the 1950s and 1960s.

Feature image Courtesy: Getty images

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