Artworks: Construction in Space

The Advent of Modernism | Surrealism and Biomorphism | Construction in Space | New Forms

"Abstraction must find a more robust way of to deal with the space around line and plane—our sense of exterior volume; it must also find a more convincing way to deal with the space that line and plane can actually describe-our sense of interior mass."
Frank Stella, 1986

One of the lasting legacies of Cubism across the twentieth century was a new definition of sculptural form as a construction in space. Pablo Picasso was the first artist to describe volume through planar elements, line, and negative space. In the 1920s he carried sculpture still further by adopting such industrial materials as iron and steel, which not only were free of art historical associations, but also allowed him to open up his compositions with remarkable autonomy.

Two Americans, David Smith and Alexander Calder, were among the younger sculptors to take inspiration directly from Picasso's example. Sculptures such as Two Circle Sentinel display Smith's unmatched mastery of abstract figuration, while the brightly burnished steel surface captures Smith's brilliant sense of surface and touch. Calder's The Crab has the sly visual humor of Picasso's figure studies; however, Calder introduces a monumental scale and a brilliant color scheme in his fantastic creature. Anthony Caro, who befriended Smith in 1960, was to take these departures even further in Argentine, a sinuous essay in pure abstraction. Ellsworth Kelly's Houston Triptych finds poetry in bold, two-dimensional shapes which the artist has spun playfully across one of the garden's wall.

A second current in abstract construction is represented by Frank Stella and DeWitt Godfrey. Rather than paring their sculptures down to basic planar elements, these artists embraced a more complex visual dynamic in their work. Stella's Decanter offers a exuberant collage of forms which bursts out into space, while Godfrey's untitled sculpture exploits the properties of industrial rebar to create a deceptively simple union of organic form and pure geometry.

© Photography by Rocky Kneten

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