Naum Gabo (1890 – 1977) was a Russian-American sculptor, born in Bryansk, south of Moscow, brother of Antoine Pevsner. Gabo adopted his professional name in 1915 when he made art his career. Before then he had embarked on medical studies in Munich, changed to science and then to engineering, and attended art history lectures. He visited Italy and also Paris where he met Archipenko. In 1914, he left Germany because of the war and went to Oslo where Pevsner joined him. In February 1917, they returned to Russia and settled in Moscow. After the Revolution, he declined a teaching position under the new Commissariat of Enlightenment but collaborated with the new regime.
In Norway he had made figurative construction of planes whose edges define silhouettes without enclosing space. In Russia, in 1919-21, he made his first wholly abstract pieces, e.g. a kinetic sculpture made to vibrate by an electric motor, also model projects for monuments. In August 1920, Gabo and Pevsner put on an open-air show of paintings and sculpture in Moscow. Their Realistic Manifesto was published and fly-posted concurrently. In it Gabo asserted that space and time were now the basic elements of art. He rejected the sculpture of masses, associating his work with that of engineers.
In 1922, Gabo went to Berlin. In 1924, his constructions were shown in New York and Paris, many of them now in plastics and resembling three-dimensional mathematical diagrams of liable scale. Diaghilev commissioned the decor for La Chatte from him and in 1926 Gabo made a model for the set in Paris, staying with Pevsner who contributed an abstracted figure: the ballet and decor were realized in 1927. Gabo’s first one-man exhibition of constructions was shown at the Kestner Society, Hanover, in 1930. In 1932, he left Berlin for Paris where he joined Abstraction-Creation. In 1935 he moved to London. His work was included in the exhibition ‘Cubism and Abstract Art’ at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, in 1936. He co-edited and contributed two essays to Circle in 1937.
In 1938, he visited the USA where an exhibition of his work toured. From 1939 to 1946, he lived near St Ives in Cornwall. In 1948 an exhibition at MoMA, New York, shared with Pevsner, was the occasion for his major statement, ‘The Philosophy of Constructivist Art’. From this time on he showed frequently on both side of the Atlantic and received commissions for large-scale public sculptures, e.g. for the Baltimore Museum of Art (1950-51) and the Bijenkorf store in Rotterdam (1954-57). In 1959, he gave the lectures published as Of Divers Arts at the National Gallery of Art, Washington. He subsequently received many honours, including a British knighthood in 1971.
Gabo rejected the utilitarian direction taken by the Russian Constructivists, insisting on art as self-sufficient work, the product of new conceptions of space and of new materials as well as of personal conceptions. The original impulse presumably came from Archipenko’s experimental work and was furthered by Tatlin’s constructions. But Gabo found his own direction, attending more to mathematics and to forms of growth in nature. Among his most poetic works are the Linear Constructions in Space (1932) in which perspex forms are wound about with nylon thread to produce transparent forms made visible by light. His example has been crucial in the history of western constructive art. His work is to be seen in many collections around the world, including the Tate Gallery, London, to which he also left a collection of small works and maquettes.