Early in the 20th century, Naum Gabo established himself in the European avant-garde art community as a revolutionary artist. His sculptural works reflected a bold spirit that helped define constructivism, a movement centered on geometric abstraction and emphasizing the presence of negative space within sculpture. Born in Russia in 1890, Gabo’s early education was not in the arts, but science. Originally a medical student, Gabo changed his academic concentration to civil engineering and began his studies in Munich in 1910. From the start, Gabo’s sculpture was composed of soaring architectural forms suggesting skyscrapers, symbols of modernity in a new urban-industrial society.
In 1914, World War I divided Europe and forced Gabo to return to his native Russia. Gabo and his compatriot artists embraced art movements such as dada and constructivism, which emerged in response to the breakdown of established social order caused by the war. The intent of both movements was to break free from the confines of traditional art. In 1920, Gabo composed the Realistic Manifesto, where he rejected traditional sculpture in favor of new shapes and new materials such as glass, plastic, and metal to convey a dynamic, rather than static, organization of forms in space. In 1922, Gabo returned to Germany and settled in Berlin, where he became well known for his structured works, architectural but fluid.
The rise of Fascism in Germany prompted Gabo and his family to move to London in 1932. There he settled into the international art community and became active in a group of avant-garde artists, Design Unit One. In 1937 he joined with fellow constructivist artist Ben Nicholson and architect Leslie Martin in publishing Circle: International Survey of Constructive Art. Gabo and his family moved to the United States in 1946 and established a home in Middlebury, Connecticut. This town was the American center for Société Anonyme, a prominent group of modernist artists formed in the early 20th century in Paris. Gabo was elected director of the group, staging exhibitions of avant-garde art. In his own work, Gabo continued to experiment with varied man-made and natural materials, combining them into works that featured interplays of void and solid, geometric and organic forms within a single work. Many of his constructions were commissioned as large-scale public works for cities across the country. He remained an active artist until his death in 1977.