Lot 310
  • 310

Naum Gabo

700,000 - 1,000,000 USD
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  • Naum Gabo
  • Bas-Relief for the U.S. Rubber Company Building, New York
  • Inscribed Gabo
  • Cast aluminum covered with translucent plastic, phosphor-bronze wire and plastic
  • 109 1/2 by 125 in.
  • 278.1 by 317.5 cm


U.S. Rubber Company Building (unveiled on December 10, 1956)
Celanese Building, New York (relocated from the above in 1976)


Naum Gabo, Herbert Read & Leslie Martin, Constructions, Paintings, Drawings, Engravings, London, 1957, illustrated p. 184
"Integration des arts dans l'architecture," in Aujoud'hut: art et architecture, Paris, no. 11, January 1957, illustrated p. 20
"An Architecture for Day or Night" & "Art Artist and Architecture: Sculpture by Naum Gabo," in The Architectural Record, vol. 122, no. 5, November 1957, illustrated p. 178
Steven A. Nash, Jörn MErkert, Colin Sanderson & Christina Lodder, Naum Gabo, Sixty Years of Constructivism, Including Catalogue Raisonné of the Constructions and Sculptures, Munich, 1985, no 69.2, pp. 42, 67 & 247
George Rickey, Constructivism: Origins and Evolution, New York, 1995, illustrated pp. 32-33
Martin Hammer & Christina Lodder, Constructing Modernity: The Art and Career of Naum Gabo, New Haven, 2000, illustrated pl. 236
Natalia Sidlina, Naum Gabo, London, 2012, pp. 182-83 & 185-87

Catalogue Note

The Russian artist Naum Gabo (born Naum Pevsner) is associated with various regions and movements ranging from Russian Constructivism to Parisian Abstraction-Création to Modern British and Post-War American art. Gabo sought to incorporate elements of time, space and movement into his paintings and sculpture. Having studied medicine, engineering and natural sciences in Munich before World War I and encountering Cubism in Paris in 1912-13, Gabo based his art on principles of physics, radically transformed by Einstein and other pioneers, and translated them into avant-garde compositions.  In Russia, before the outbreak of World War I, Gabo met and worked with Kandinsky, Tatlin and Malevich, conceiving of a constructivist utopia manifest in his creations that pushed art, as it was known, to its very limits (see fig. 1). In 1920, he and his brother wrote the Realistic Manifesto, which came to be a key document for Constructivist thought. The Manifesto disowned traditional notions of mass and volume and called for art that was plastic and kinetic, in tune with the rhythms of space and time and existing inseparably from life. Regardless of where Gabo’s studies, travels and escapes from war took him, the principle tenants of his Manifesto were a continuous undercurrent in his work and life (see fig. 2).

The present work, Relief Construction for the Rubber Company Building, was commissioned by Nelson Rockefeller in 1956 for the Rubber Company building in New York. It is a unique sculpture and a site specific work, occupying a prominent space in the Rockefeller aesthetic and thus in the history of a preeminent and glowing post-World War II New York. Gabo created a wood engraving of similar design called Opus 6 (see fig. 3), which he said he made “as a sketch for the bas-relief which I did for the lobby of the US Rubber Building in Radio City, NY” (Naum Gabo, letter to Richard Morphet, 28 April, 1968, Tate Archive, London). The plasticity of the lines in Opus 6 is translated into three-dimensional forms in Relief Construction, but it retains much of its two-dimensional appeal.  Christina Lodder elucidates: “The Construction bears the imprint of its two-dimensional source in its relative flatness and in the way that the separate elements are mounted directly onto the wall, without any intervening base. In this respect, the work is the sculptural equivalent of the way the dematerialized and luminous forms are set off against dark grounds in the prints. The mounting of the relief a few inches in front of the wall enhances this effect and intensifies the impression of the construction floating in space, producing an inter-play between the sculpture’s hovering forms and the shadows that they cast on the wall itself. The materialization of immateriality suggests spatial infinity and the evocation of an ideal reality. It epitomizes Gabo’s passionate belief in the ability of art to nourish and fortify the human spirit” (Christina Lodder, Naum Gabo’s Relief Construction for the Rubber Company Building, Gerald Peters Gallery, New York, 2014).

Naum Gabo’s style evolved over the course of his career as he moved throughout the world and discovered his own personal aesthetic.  He both drove and was driven by the Constructivist philosophy in Russia; he was impassioned by Newton and Einstein’s theories taught to him in his medical and engineering studies in Munich; he was inspired by the smooth lines and fluid melding of life and art in the De Stijl and Bauhaus movements in Berlin; and he was motivated by a changing world in London and New York to construct Art that, he declared, should “accompany man everywhere, wherever the inexhaustible life flows and acts…in order that the burning urge to live may never be extinguished by mankind” (Naum Gabo and Antoine Pevsner, Realistic Manifesto, translated in Martin Hammer and Christina Lodder, eds., Gabo on Gabo: Texts and Interviews, Sussex, 2000, p. 34).

As a modern sculptor, the translation of the drawn line on paper to the physical line of sculpture was central to the artist’s process. The organic forms that Gabo created on paper came to life in his constructions and created space out of mass, and depth from flatness. These simple, dynamic and spatial forms are not unlike Matisse’s drawings a century before, or the imminent structures of Barbara Hepworth and Henry Moore, which were heavily influenced by Gabo’s work and philosophy. In the 1950s Gabo conjectured: “Why, may I ask, is not the contemporary artist to be permitted to search for and bring forward an image of the world more in accordance with the achievements of our developed mind, even if it is different from the image presented in the paintings and sculptures of our predecessors?” (Naum Gabo, “On Constructive Realism,” in Three Lectures on Modern Art, New York, 1949, pp. 76-77).

The concept of progress, whether global, economic, physical or spiritual, was central to Gabo’s philosophy. Looking back and understanding history and movement encouraged Gabo to be forward-thinking, science-focused and constantly developing. While Relief Construction shares its kinetic energy, movement and wheel-like motif with numerous predecessors, this construction denies the opportunity to be immediately categorized or easily understood.

The curvilinear forms of the present work seem to be in constant and oscillating motion, imitating the dynamic forces of the cosmos or the trail of the earth’s orbit around the sun. They are inexplicably beautiful in their mystery, known but not seen, ever confined by gravity’s inescapable pull.  Gabo manipulated industrial and modern materials such as aluminum and plastic to beget unpredictable forms that question our notion of physicality. He made unforgiving metals swoon malleably and thousands of pounds of industrial material levitate gracefully. One of his only works containing color, and thoroughly varied in texture and form, Relief Construction is the epitome of twentieth-century progress, the synthesis of science and art, and the apotheosis of mature avant-garde thought.

We would like to acknowledge Professor Christina Lodder, School of Art History, University of St. Andrews, for the past research she has completed on this work.

Fig. 1 Photograph of Vladimir Tatlin’s model for Monument to the Third International, 1919-20

Fig. 2 A copy of Naum Gabo and Antoine Pevsner’s Realistic Manifesto, Moscow, 1920

Fig. 3 Two examples of Gabo’s Opus 6, woodcarving on paper, 1956

Fig. 4 Gabo constructing Relief Construction for the Rubber Company Building in 1956

Fig. 5 Naum Gabo, Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth beside a portrait of Herbert Read at the Herbert Read Memorial Exhibition at the Tate Gallery in 1968