Pure Abstract Sculpture (Constructivism & Minimalism)


Welcome viewers to MOOC’s online course
on Introduction to Modern Western Art. In this lecture we will be looking at the
development of pure abstract sculptures and in this context briefly we will be also looking
at some of the new innovative ideas of sculpture proposed by two short lived, but very significant
movements in sculpture called constructivism and minimalism. Now, pure abstraction is a tendency which
has already been observed or noticed from the time cubism as an art movement came into
being and if we try to define what this term or this phrase pure abstraction means, then
it is a kind of art where the artist uses visual elements independently as the actual
subject of the work itself, something that we have seen Kandinsky been doing in his works
in the context of German expressionism. He has been using lines, colours, certain
elements, abstract elements as the form instead of referring to the real life. Now, all the elements of abstraction are present
in earlier artworks, the roots of modern abstract art are to be found in cubism as I have already
mentioned and among other important abstract styles that developed in the 20th century
modern art are Orphism, Rayonism, constructivism, Abstract Expressionism, Op Art, Tachisme,
but in this lecture we will be limiting our discussion to constructivism and minimalism. Now, talking about minimalism for example,
we will be continuously reminded of Brancusi to some extent at least, because Brancusi
through his simplification was able to reach a sculptural idea which comes very close to
the idea of minimalism. Now where you get rid of anything that you
think is excess, anything that you think is not necessary, unnecessary, not essential,
you simply get rid of that and reach a core sculptural idea through the process of simplification. And Brancusi has done quite a few works like
this where ultimately he has arrived at a form which resembles an egg. But really speaking it is not a representation
of egg it is not an image of egg, it is an idea, idea that relates to the cosmic feel
of the universe to the cosmic concept of universe. So, once again, it is a very philosophical
and a spiritually driven concept which Brancusi was trying to visualize and materialize in
his sculptures going by a process of simplification. Now, as far as constructivism is concerned,
around 1915, we come across a kind of sculpture made by Vladimir Tatlin, a Russian artist
where once again you hardly see any representational element. It almost looks like what we call scrap objects
discarded pieces from industrial products and Tatlin calls this work relief ‘Counter
relief.’ Now, in Corner Counter relief’s which works
like an installation art work for Tatlin he was continuously exploring an idea of a sculpture
which will not have any realistic or visual reference right at the outset. It will rather be more dependent on the idea
of construction. Then you have another Russian artist and by
the way constructivism is basically an art movement that generated from Russia. So, most of this the original artists, the
initial artists who worked in this movement were Russian. So Kazimir Malevich in this work which he
calls the tea service he follows of course, the forms of tea cups and jugs and all that,
but as you can clearly see in this work what Malevich is more interested in is neither
the functionality of the objects, nor in the references of the objects, but
in the construction of the objects in this we will get more and more clear in his other
works like the monument to the third international which he made in 1919 where he used wood,
iron and glass and another important contribution to the modern sculpture that. Now, a sculptor is not confined to the use
of only one single medium in one sculpture this combination of various mediums and various
materials in one single sculpture is now possible, it is now allowed. So, Tatlin and art sculptures they should
get the credit of experimenting with different mediums and obviously, we will be reminded
of Picasso who during their synthetic cubism has already done that, a kind of combination
of different materials in one work, but not so much in sculpture as much as Tatlin is
doing in his sculptures like this monument. Then when you look at Lissitzkys work called
the ‘Proun Room’, again what you are encountering it is not a conventional sculpture or not
an conventional idea of sculpture what you are looking at is a combination of various
geometrical forms. And again like Tatlin, Lissitzkys is also
using wood, metal, paint and other materials because the objective was not to retain the
purity of material but to achieve a certain formal idea which gets even more clear in
the later works by the constructivist artists. Now, this is accepted to some extent that
constructivists, they borrowed the ideas from cubism suprematism and futurism, but at its
heart it was an entirely new approach to making objects one which sought to abolish the traditional
artistic concern with composition and constructivism replace that tradition with construction. So, construction becomes the key word, the
key term to understand this new aesthetics of constructivism. Constructivism called for a careful technical
analysis of modern materials and it was hoped that this investigation would eventually yield
ideas that could be put to use in mass production, serving the ends of a modern, communist society. In a sense, constructivism was certainly an
art movement as much as it was an industrial movement. Ultimately however the movement founded in
trying to make the transition from the artist’s studio to the factory. Now, some continued to insist on the value
of abstract, analytical work and the value of art per se these artists had a major impact
on spreading constructivism throughout Europe. Others meanwhile pushed on to a new, but short
lived and disappointing phase known as productivism in which artists worked in industry. Russian constructivism was in declined by
the mid 1920s partly a victim of the Bolshevik regimes increasing hostility to Avant Garde
Art, but it would continue to be an inspiration for artists in the west sustaining a movement
called international constructivism which flourished in Germany in the 1920s and whose
legacy endured into the 1950s. Because when you look at this kind of sculptures
produced during the hay days of constructivism and if you are familiar with lot of model
sculptures done even in the 60s 70s 80s even in the 90s not only in the west, but also
in our own country, you will certainly find and have a feeling that constructivism has
not really lost its relevance, it is still there very much as a great source of inspiration
for the modern artists for many decades. Because this very idea of getting completely
rid of any real visual references in your sculpture this provides the sculptor with
a huge range of freedom to explore other areas of sculpture making. So, from sculpting and modelling and carving,
constructing an idea physically becomes the central source of inspiration for the constructivists
and the later artists who were inspired by the constructivism. Alexander Rodchenko one of the chief proponents
of constructivism, made this work in 1920 in wood calling ‘Spatial construction 12’. He made a whole series of this kind of works
and as you can see when you look at this kind of work we are not supposed to ask for wheeling;
obviously, we are not supposed to ask for any story or any narrative content. We are supposed to appreciate and enjoy the
form in terms of its construction and also we are supposed to mentally at least playback
and imagine the process of constructing such sculpted sculpture, like this one as well. And interestingly, many of the constructivist
sculptures also look like industrial products and deliberately so, they intentionally made
their sculptures look like industrial product. They do not look like anything close to the
traditional aesthetics of beauty, emotion, psychological, temperament and not at all
any subjective, persona,l individual association. Laszlo Moholy-Nagy another constructivist
sculptor was also making kinetic sculptures, sculpture that would be moving rotating with
steel, plastic, wood and electric motor this is definitely a very important moment in the
history of modern sculpture where a sculptor is using a motor. He is generating certain movement within the
sculpture through a mechanized device nobody has done that before. This is very interesting because this is going
to have a great impact on the later sculptors like Alexander Calder whom we will be looking
at in the next lecture. So, kinetic sculpture was first when introduced
by Laszlo Moholy-Nagy and then going by the very typical idea of constructivism, you also
come across this kind of sculptures where the whole idea of the sculpture is based on
not only shapes and construction, but also the relationships created by different shapes
constructed, joined and placed against each other. Now, constructivist proposed to replace arts
traditional concern with composition with a focus on construction as we have already
said. Objects were to be created not in order to
express beauty forget about personal emotion or the artist’s outlook or to represent
the world, but to carry out a fundamental analysis of the materials and forms of art
one which might lead to the design of functional objects. So, that was in their mind all the time. That how art practice could actually help
the industrial design sector. Now, for many constructivist, this entailed
an ethic of truth to materials and also I would like to add truth to shapes, truth to
geometry, truth to the basic units of a construction. The belief that material should be employed
only in accordance with their capacities and in such a way that demonstrated the uses to
which they could be put. So in that sense, constructivism is entirely
a new practice in the modern sculpture. Constructivist art often aimed to demonstrate
how materials behaved to ask for instance what different properties had materials such
as wood glass and metal. The form an artwork would take would be dictated
by its materials not the other way round as is the case in traditional art forms in which
the artist transforms the base materials into something very different and beautiful, but
here the materials will be retained in its original character. So, in the, and also the shape also the shape
and the pattern for some, these enquiries where a means to an end. The goal being the transmission of ideas and
designs into a mass production for others it was an end in itself a new and archetypal
modern style expressing the dynamism of modern life. In fact, when you go through many of these
constructed constructivist sculptures, it appears that the constructivist sculptures
are made in a way that they can be replicated, they can be reproduced by other artists as
well. So, this is just to show a kind of contrast
between constructivism and let us say more individualistic sculptures like Brancusi’s
sculptures or Henry Moore’s sculptures or Rowther’s sculptures which are in spite
of their particularly Henry Moore and Brancusi’s case, in spite of their interest in the formal
values in the non representational and abstract values their work still remain very individualistic
and they are subjective and they are emotionally touched. As a result they cannot be replicated in spite
of the measurements and calculations because there is a personal touch in their work. Now, in case of constructivist artists and
their artworks like this one by Naum Gabo or this one, it is at least the look is such
that it can have a mass production, it can have an industrial output, it will not remain
in the realm of a very personalized and individual and the psychological temperament. So, the seed of constructivism was a desire
to express the experience of modern life, its dynamism, its new and disorienting qualities
of space and time. We need to see constructivism of course, in
the context of the new modern life of the early 20th century where industrialization,
mechanization and the machine driven life was slowly overwhelming and capturing the
imagination of the society. And futurists had already responded to that
in a certain way constructivists are responding to the same situation in a slightly different
way. But also crucial was the desire to develop
a new form of art more appropriate to the democratic and modernizing goals of the Russian
revolution. Constructivist where to be constructors of
a new society, cultural workers on par with the scientists in their search for solutions
to modern problems. So, artists belonging to constructivism had
this objective in their mind that they would be creating art that would in terms of the
construction, help the society to progress, help the industry to develop. Now, minimalism, minimalism emerged in New
York in the early 1960s though it is slightly later history, but we are discussing minimalism
along with constructivism only because of their great similarity in terms of the formal
values. So, it minimalism emerged at least 40 years
later than constructivism and among the artists who were self consciously renouncing recent
art they thought had become stale and academic. So, a wave of new influences and rediscovered
styles led younger artists to question conventional boundaries between the various media. The new art favoured the ‘cool’ over the
dramatic. There were also minimalist were not also much
in favour of a very dramatic and narrative art, they were in favour of a kind of art
that is, yes, minimalist in a very literal sense of the term, and also in a sense abstract
and also it will have no excess. Everything will be there as it is required,
nothing extra; nothing excess will be part of any minimalist work. And like constructivists, minimalists fabricated
their sculptures out of industrial materials and they also emphasized anonymity over the
expressive excess of personal emotional content same with the constructivists. So, if you look at the main features of minimalism,
Number one, there is a denial of expression personal or emotional expression with an interest
in making objects that avoided the appearance of fine art led to the creation of extremely
sleek geometric works that purposefully and radically eschew conventional aesthetic appeal. Secondly, minimalists created works that resembled
the factory-built commodities and upended the traditional definitions of art whose meaning
was tied either to a narrative or to the personal inclinations and proximities of an artist. Thirdly, the use of prefabricated industrial
materials and simple often repeated geometric forms together with the emphasis placed on
the physical space occupied by the artwork led to some works that force the viewer to
confront the arrangement and scale of the forms. So, this is also interesting that how minimalists
were trying to engage the viewers physically with their works in order to kind of enable
the viewers to engage their perception with the physicality, with the geometric features,
with the sleek industrial components which has become a part of their artworks. So, viewers as a result were led to experience
the qualities of even weight, height, gravity or agility or even the appearance of light
as a material presence. They were often faced with artworks that demanded
a physical as well as a visual response. This was pretty interesting because until
minimalism, viewers whenever expected to respond to a work of art physically, they were expected
to respond to the physical attributes of a work of art, but entirely mentally, not by
touching. But now the viewers could actually touch the
objects, feel the surface, feel the geometry, and also experience the formal applications
of a minimalist work. For example, if you look at this work by Donald
Judd a very famous minimalist sculptor, can you say whether you have seen anything like
this before? No. I mean it does not look like a sculpture at
all in the first place, but only when you get to see more of his works, then you gradually
get convinced about the idea of Donald Judd’s works. He is kind of foundation, the conceptual foundation
based on weight he was creating this works, for example this one. Similarly when you look at Sol Lewitt works,
his works almost looked like a wall design or a mural that you see on the wall of a metro
station or may be on the wall of a shopping mall, they do not look like artwork maybe
from today’s context. But when he was doing it in 1960s he was actually
proposing a completely new idea of art which did not look like art, but came very close
to a certain kind of design faculty of human being, a design experience of human being. So, in that sense Sol Lewitt wanted to get
rid of the conventional expectation from a work of art and he was exploring all the variables
of a certain kind of aesthetics which relied mostly on very very simple elements like vertical
lines, strips of wavy colors and that is it, but the scale and the form of art is definitely
very different or for example, this one. Simple geometrical elements arranged in a
certain way occupying a given space is what the minimalist are considering now as sculptures,
or for that matter this one. So, today one can look at this sculptures
and see that how effectively either the constructivists from the earlier period or the minimalists
from the later period were able to actually reach that goal physically, that goal which
the conceived in their mind, a goal that entailed a great ambition to get rid of any kind of
realistic references, any kind of real life references in their work, but to explore the
possibilities of the industrial ideas, industrial products, industrial materials on the one
hand, and the geometry, the basic shapes and forms, on the other hand. Really speaking, both these groups of artists
we are responding very honestly to the new socio economic and technological developments
that started to take shape and we started to shape the society also to a great extent
from early 20th century entire Europe. Thank you.

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