barber institute of fine arts
university of birmingham

Gabo sculpture enters collection

An exquisite and haunting sculpture by Naum Gabo, one of the most important avant garde artists of the 20th century, went on display here at the Barber on Monday 9 October.

‘Linear Construction in Space No. 1, made in 1943/4 from Perspex and nylon filament, has been acquired for our collection by the Henry Barber Trust, with substantial financial support from Art Fund and the Arts Council England/Victoria and Albert Museum Purchase Grant Fund. In addition, £15,000 raised by the former Friends of the Barber Institute has been put towards the purchase.

Initially inspired by Cubism, Russian-born Naum Gabo (1890 – 1977) became one of the leading exponents of a revolutionary form of abstract sculpture known as Constructivism, whereby the object was constructed from individual elements, as opposed to being carved or modelled in the traditional manner. Gabo lived in Berlin from 1922 to 1932, but with the rise of the Third Reich, emigrated first to Paris, and then to London in 1935. In 1939, Gabo joined Ben Nicholson and Barbara Hepworth in St Ives, Cornwall, and remained there until leaving for the United States in 1946.  This sculpture dates from that highly productive St Ives period.

‘Linear Construction in Space No. 1′ is the first sculpture in which the artist used linear stringing with nylon filaments to conjure space and movement in sculpture. It epitomises Gabo’s vision of defining these two qualities – rather than volume and mass – in sculpture, as set out in his seminal Constructivist publication, ‘The Realistic Manifesto’ of 1920. Celebrating the beauty and functionality of the new technology and materials of Perspex and nylon, it is thought to have been a prototype for a much larger, unrealised public sculpture outside a textile factory. It was described as  ‘some angelic instrument, … which no one had ever dreamt of before’, by collector Helen Sutherland, who in 1943 became the first to purchase a version of the work.

The Work of Naum Gabo © Nina & Graham Williams / Photo: Edward Moss (All rights reserved)

Gabo’s practice was to create a prototype from which subsequent versions in various sizes and materials could be based. The Barber’s work is thought to be the third of 16 known versions of Linear Construction in Space No. 1, and was made to order for his friend Jack Craven Pritchard the influential modernist entrepreneur and promoter of forward-looking design.

There are only two other versions in British public collections: a larger example at Kettle’s Yard, at Cambridge University, and another, similar in scale, at Pier Arts Centre, Stromness. Tate Britain has an example of ‘Linear Construction in Space No. 1 Variation’, which has stepped sides, while further examples are held by the Guggenheim, New York, and the Hirschhorn Sculpture Garden, Washington DC.

Our Director, Nicola Kalinsky, said the new sculpture would join a small but growing number of modern sculptures in the gallery, which include the recently acquired ‘Homme vue par une fleur’ of 1958, by Jan Arp, and Henry Moore’s ‘Family Group’ maquette, on long-term loan to the collection.

Said Nicola: ‘The acquisition of this fine example of Gabo’s work demonstrates our commitment to representing 20th-century art in relation to our outstanding historic collections. We are keen to demonstrate the relationships, continuities and discontinuities between modern artists and their predecessors through superlative examples. 

“We are hugely grateful for the financial support so generously provided by Art Fund and through the Arts Council England/ Victoria and Albert Museum Purchase Grant Fund, both of which have made substantial contributions. We also value enormously the assistance – financial and in so many other ways – of our supporters locally through the former Friends of the Barber, and of the Henry Barber Trust.’

‘Linear Construction in Space No. 1’ is currently off display in order to help preserve the work. It will be put back on display in early 2019.


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