REVIEW | From the Vault: Naum Gabo

From the Vault: Naum Gabo Art Institute of Chicago “It hovered between the visible and the invisible, the material and the immaterial, [becoming] the crystallization of the purest sensibility.” – Critic Herbert Read writing about the work of Naum Gabo Tucked away in one of the galleries on the third floor of the modern wing, Linear Construction in Space No. 2 and Linear Construction in Space No. 4 by Naum Gabo featured “from the vault” (from the private collection of the Art Institute of Chicago) are quintessential examples of Gabo’s pursuit of the material reality of space and time. Turning a sharp corner, they caught me by surprise and literally almost knocked me off my feet. And, I wasn’t alone – a small crowd was gathered around the works, constantly setting off the alarms for daring to get too close to catch a more in-depth glimpse of these revolutionary and decidedly modern pieces.

Linear Construction in Space No. 2, a gorgeous, curvilinear construction of interpenetrating white lines hovering centimeters above a white pedestal, features Gabo’s main artistic preoccupations (and those of his fellow Constructivists): cultivating an entirely new approach to making objects that focused on careful and technical analysis of modern ideals and materials. Transparent shapes of acrylic are joined through an interwoven stringing technique which allows light and environment to pass uninterrupted through the form – a specifically designed self-contained object that is suggestive of both the universal and the infinite. Abandoning the traditional concern of composition, Gabo, with scientific precision (indicative of his background in medicine and civil engineering), translates his ideas and designs into a new, archetypal, modern style that expresses the dynamism of modern life. At its center, a slender sliver of black acrylic hides and peeks from within the white web, its crisp edges contrastingly sharply with the sexy curves of the invisible container that perpetually surrounds it. It could infer the individual confined within the machine (society), it could reference the mechanical emerging from the natural, or perhaps it pinpoints a specific moment being eclipsed and engulfed by time – questions that continue to resonate among artists and philosophers alike.

Linear Construction in Space No. 4, black and stark in comparison to No. 2, is a mesh of curving planes formed by strings of stainless steel spring wire, a material the artist employed for its strength and elasticity. Though not created to express beauty, the sculpture is hypnotically beautiful. Believing in the truth of the material, Gabo employed aluminum and stainless steel to construct a more seductive, more intimate form – the spring wire stretched to its limits, twisting and hinting at spots of opacity. From every angle, forms and shapes confined and defined by solid borders contort, while sheer centers disappear and emerge. This intentional oscillation suggests that what has been is merging with what is to come; but hopefully, idealistically, and societally. At first glance, it would be easy to dismiss Gabo’s work as simply pieces of plastic interlaced with string, unassuming and devoid of intention or concept. But, it would be a mistake to do so. His abstract, analytical works give new insights into the concept of construction over composition and ultimately, I believe, led the way for contemplating the value of art per se as well as the design of art as functional objects. Built on ideas from Cubism, Futurism, and Suprematism, Constructivism was an avant-garde movement at the time: desiring to express the experience of modern life - its dynamism, its new and disorientating qualities of space and time, and to serve as a foundation of new solutions to modern problems. Constructivists, Gabo among them, elected to express this philosophy through a new form of art. This undeniable force draws me to these works – it reaches out and grabs me at my core and winds me in, twisting ever tighter. FROM THE VAULT: Linear Construction in Space No. 2 and Linear Construction in Space No. 4 by Naum Gabo are on view in the galleries on the 3rd Floor of the Modern Wing. For more about the artist, known as a pioneer of constructive art, visit: To listen to an audio recording of Gabo reading the Realistic Manifesto, visit: Images (from top to bottom): Linear Construction in Space No. 2 and Linear Construction in Space No. 4, installed at the Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, IL; Linear Construction in Space No. 2, 1949-1950, acrylic and nylon, Gift of Florence May Schoenborn; Linear Construction in Space No. 4, 1954-1959, aluminum and stainless steel spring wire, Gift of Mrs. Suzette Mortan Zurcher Davidson

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