‘The nylon filament is reflective, so between the delicacy and openness of the stringing and the transparent and reflective materials, these works take on an intense luminosity. They are like instruments of light, as reflections play across the warping movement of their curves and project through the plastic end-pieces. The stringing also creates a heightened sense of extension and duration, making palpable the element of time. It is a device that Gabo would use consistently, with either nylon or thin metallic spring-wire, throughout the rest of his career’ (Steven A. Nash, ‘Naum Gabo: Sculptures of Purity and Possibility’ in Naum Gabo, Sixty Years of Constructivism (exh. cat.), Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas, 1985, p.38).
Linear Construction in Space No. 1 stands out as a breakthrough for Gabo in that it marked the artist’s transition to actual stringing from a technique of incising and scoring lines into the surface of his sculptures. Executed from perspex and nylon filament, the present work exemplifies Gabo’s constant quest for expanding the boundaries and breaking new grounds in the medium of sculpture. Gabo was fascinated with materials and methods of construction, and his use of man-made substances, driven in part by his Constructivist enchantment with industry and the modern world, as opposed to the traditional sculptor’s mediums of stone, wood or bronze, allowed him to progress his interest in movement and illusory space. Using the hard but translucent Perspex as a frame, he was able to fill space using sinuous nylon filaments stretched across a void to create the impression of a continuous form. He replaced the mass and bulk of conventional sculpture with illusory volume, an emptiness filled with light and movement.
The impetus for Linear Construction in Space No. 1 was a public sculpture, never completed, on the site of a textile factory, meant to commemorate the skill of the workers. Gabo was an idealist when it came to the role artists should play in society, and felt that art could be used as a tool to progress culture and humanity, in part through the use of public sculpture to celebrate the abilities and achievements of working people in today’s industrialized world. He was utopian in his view that art should be available to enrich the lives of the masses as opposed to a select and fortunate few. As he stated: 'In the squares and on the streets we are placing our work convinced that art must not remain a sanctuary for the idle, a consolation for the rich ... Art should attend us everywhere that life flows and acts' (Naum Gabo, ‘Realistic Manifesto’, quoted in Naum Gabo: The Constructive Process, The Tate Gallery, London, pp.25-26).
According to the artist's wife Miriam Gabo, the first model for Linear Construction in Space No. 1 was made with red thread. Gabo then experimented with nylon, producing seventeen or eighteen versions of the composition over a period of several years in various sizes, all executed using Perspex and nylon monofilament. He was clear however that each individual version was a unique piece, writing in a letter in 1946 that: 'as my work cannot be repeated mechanically or cast, I have to do the work anew every time so that each piece is really an original' (Naum Gabo, letter 18th March 1946, reproduced 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, p.251). Other examples are housed in the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, Tate, London, The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C., the Portland Art Museum, Portland and the Kunsthalle, Hamburg, and many were sold to early enthusiasts of Constructivist art such as Helen Sutherland, Leslie Martin, Margret Gardiner and Peter Gregory.
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