Naum Gabo (1890-1977)
PROPERTY FORMERLY IN THE COLLECTION OF SIR NORMAN REID Sir Norman Reid was Director of the Tate Gallery from 1964 to 1979. It is these years that defined him as a leading cultural figure in England who played a crucial role in supporting modern artists, whilst enriching Tate’s collection. Reid took over a gallery that needed a renewed sense of direction; he transformed it into a place where innovative curatorial and conservational practices thrived and where new art was presented to an ever-growing audience. Constantly striving to adapt his gallery to the needs of the public, Reid made drastic improvements to the Tate - expanding the gallery in many ways including overseeing the building of the North East Quadrant in 1979. Under Reid, important masterpieces by Giacometti, Picasso, Matisse, Mondrian and Dalí were acquired, together with a breadth of works by British artists. It was because of his friendships with artists such as Dame Barbara Hepworth, Henry Moore, Ben Nicholson and Naum Gabo, combined with his own active role as a private collector, that many artworks were gifted to the gallery by these figures. Under his directorship, the Tate Gallery held many key exhibitions including Naum Gabo’s constructions, paintings, drawings in 1966, Barbara Hepworth's retrospective in 1968, Ben Nicholson's retrospective in 1969, and Henry Moore: Graphics in the Making, 1975. Though passionate about keeping the Tate up-to-date with artistic trends, Reid also enlarged the collection of earlier works, securing The Haymakers and The Reapers by George Stubbs in 1977 after a significant fund-raising campaign. Tate remains a brilliant resource for scholarly work on art history, offering strong examples of all the main movements of western art in the 20th Century. Reid took an active role in numerous advisory bodies and committees including being the British representative on the Committee of Museums and Galleries of Modern Art, a member of the Arts Council Art Panel and the Contemporary Art Society Committee. Furthermore, for over a decade he was part of the British Council Fine Arts Committee, becoming its chairman in 1968. Reid’s achievements were wide-ranging and recognised with his knighthood in 1970. Paule Vézelay’s Construction No. 43, Four Silhouettes and Kenneth Martin’s Oscillation, from the Collection of Sir Norman Reid, will be included in Christie's Modern British and Irish Art Day sale, 20 November 2014.
Naum Gabo (1890-1977)

Construction in Space: Suspended

Naum Gabo (1890-1977)
Construction in Space: Suspended
signed 'Gabo' (on the top edge of the Perspex), signed again 'Gabo' (on the edge of the aluminium base)
Perspex, stainless steel spring wire, gold plated bronze bow, on aluminium base
11¾ in. (27.9 cm.) high
Conceived circa 1971-72, unique.
A gift from the artist to Sir Norman Reid, March 1972, and by descent.
S. Nash and J. Merkert (eds.), Naum Gabo Sixty Years of Constructivism including the Catalogue Raisonné of the Constructions and Sculptures, München, 1985, p. 250, no. 70.14.

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Anne Haasjes
Anne Haasjes

Lot Essay

Permeated by space and hanging in space, Construction in Space: Suspended epitomises Naum Gabo’s passionate and life-long commitment to expressing the essential qualities of modernity as epitomised by latest discoveries in science and technology (see M. Hammer and C. Lodder, Constructing Modernity: The Art and Career of Naum Gabo, New Haven and London, 2000). In his Realistic Manifesto of 1920 he had declared ‘Space and time are re-born to us today. Space and time are the only forms on which life is built and hence on which art must be constructed’ (N. Gabo and N. Pevzner [A. Pevsner], Realisticheskii Manifest (Moscow, 1920); reproduced in M. Hammer and C. Lodder, (eds.), Gabo on Gabo: Texts and Interviews (Sussex, 2000), p. 23.). Throughout his career he remained faithful to this belief, and forty years later, he was still asserting that ‘Space is really my material. The sculpture is there to act on it, to make it reveal itself’ (Our Art Critic, ‘Naum Gabo: “Space is Not Outside Us”’, The Times, 15 March 1966.)

Construction in Space: Suspended emerged as a fully resolved sculpture in the 1960s and was one of the last series of works that Gabo made using the technique of stringing (see C. Sanderson and C. Lodder, “Catalogue Raisonné of the Constructions and Sculptures of Naum Gabo”, in Naum Gabo: Sixty Years of Constructivism, S.A. Nash and J. Merkert (eds.), Munich, 1985, no. 70. This particular sculpture is catalogued as no. 70.14). He had started using this medium in the 1940s when he had employed it for Linear Construction No. 1, which he completed in Britain in 1942, during the dark days of the Second World War. In adopting and adapting this new sculptural method, he may have derived some inspiration from mathematical models, Henry Moore’s earlier stringed figures of 1937, and from his own visits to textile factories in connection with upholstery for the Jowetts’ car project of 1943-44. Unlike Moore, however, Gabo did not use stringing as a visual contrast to solid mass, but rather to delineate forms that were permeated by space and light. He subsequently created several different sculptures (including Linear Constructions No. 2, 3 and 4), in which the overall configurations were articulated through a series of closely packed strings, which produced an iridescent effect, often reflecting light and defining planes without interrupting the flow of space. Although Gabo’s earlier strung works (Linear Construction in Space No. 1 and 2) were mainly produced using Nylon filament, by the 1960s, he was also beginning to use metallic spring-wire, which was more durable, but produced equally shimmering and dematerialised visual sensations. Most of the Suspended sculptures were actually made using Nylon filament, but this particular sculpture was one of five that was constructed with stainless-steel spring-wire.

The structure of Suspended is comparatively uncomplicated, consisting of a boldly curved metal cradle which supports a form created from two intersecting planes of transparent Perspex, elaborated with stringing. The solid but shining metal cradle presents a vibrant contrast to the translucent strung form which seems to coalesce from space. The shape of this hanging component is based on the central element of Linear Construction in Space No. 4, which Gabo seems to have produced around 1955 (Catalogue Raisonné, no. 68). Ultimately both Suspended and Linear Construction No. 4 had been inspired by the form that was attached to the ceiling in his Baltimore Construction: Suspended in Space of 1951 (Catalogue Raisonné, no. 57). The complex genealogy of Suspended epitomises Gabo’s working method and indicates the way that he tended to explore intensively the potential of various motifs, with the result that his entire oeuvre demonstrates a truly remarkable consistency of idea and development.

This particular version of Construction in Space: Suspended was produced in the early 1970s and received by Sir Norman Reid in March 1972 (N. Reid, letter to Naum Gabo, 23 March 1972, Gabo Archive, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University, Connecticut, USA). Although Gabo had conceived many of his works so that they were able to work at different scales - as large sculptures located in public spaces or as smaller works in domestic interiors - he seems, from the very beginning, to have envisaged Suspended as an intimate work for individual contemplation. Not surprisingly, its relative simplicity and small size made it immensely popular with collectors.

The present sculpture is also a testament to the high esteem in which Gabo held Sir Norman Reid and the profound friendship that had existed between the two men since 1966, when Reid, who was then director of the Tate Gallery, responded sympathetically to Gabo’s concerns about the display of his sculptures, and moved his exhibition into a larger space (Gabo, carbon of letter to Reid, 28 October 1965, Gabo Archive, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University, Connecticut, USA). Subsequently, Reid’s support for Gabo was unwavering and invaluable, culminating in the Tate’s purchase of the Large Constructed Head No. 2 in 1972, and in Reid’s successful efforts to get Torsion built as a fountain in the grounds of St Thomas’s Hospital, London. Gabo trusted Reid, who with his wife Jean, regularly visited Gabo and Miriam in Middlebury, Connecticut, where the two men often worked together in the studio, restoring and re-assembling old and frequently damaged models. Indeed, Gabo valued Reid’s contribution, his artistic skill and creative understanding. Gabo’s appreciation was manifest in his gift to the Tate of his archive of working models in 1977 and more personally in this particular Suspended. By the 1970s, Gabo’s works were usually made in conjunction with his assistant Charles Wilson, under Gabo’s direction. Nevertheless, one can imagine that Gabo was particularly vigilant when supervising the making of this particular version of Suspended, which he clearly presented with respect, affection and gratitude to one of his closest friends and confidants.

We are very grateful to Professor Christina Lodder for preparing this catalogue entry; and to Nina and Graham Williams for their expertise in cataloguing this work.

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