Concrete art

Concrete art was an art movement with a strong emphasis on geometrical abstraction. The term was first formulated by Theo van Doesburg and was then used by him in 1930 to define the difference between his vision of art and that of other abstract artists of the time. After his death in 1931, the term was further defined and popularized by Max Bill, who organized the first international exhibition in 1944 and went on to help promote the style in Latin America. The term was taken up widely after World War 2 and promoted through a number of international exhibitions and art movements.

Concrete art is an art movement with a strong emphasis on abstraction The artist Theo van Doesburg, closely associated with the De Stijl art movement, coined the term “concrete art” as he in 1930 founded the group Art Concret and articulated its features in a manifesto titled “The Basis of Concrete Art”, signed by four other artists of the group, including Otto G Carlsund, Jean Hélion and Leon Tutundjian The manifesto explained that the resultant art should be non-referential insofar as its components should not refer to, or allude to, the entities normally encountered in the natural, visible world This is a distinction from abstraction generally In a more general sense “abstract art” could and often does include the “abstraction of forms in nature” But “concrete art” was intended to emanate “directly from the mind” and consequently to be more “cerebral” than abstract art generally Concrete art is often composed of basic visual features such as planes, colors, and forms “Sentiment” tends to be absent from concrete art The “hand” of the artist may be difficult to detect in finished works of concrete art; concrete art may appear, in some instances, to have been made by a machine Concrete art often has a core visual reference to geometry whereas more general abstract art may find its basis in the components of the natural world A formulation of a description of concrete art might include a considerable reliance on the formal qualities of an artwork Theo Van Doesburg’s manifesto stated that art “should receive nothing from nature’s formal properties or from sensuality or sentimentality We want to exclude lyricism, dramaticism, symbolism, etc…” In concrete art a mathematical equation can serve as a starting point Concrete art can include painting and sculpture.

After the formal break up of De stijl, following the last issue of its magazine in 1928, van Doesburg began considering the creation of a new collective centered on a similar approach to abstraction. In 1929 he discussed his plans with Uruguayan painter Joaquín Torres-García, with candidates for membership of this group including Georges Vantongerloo, Constantin Brancusi, František Kupka, Piet Mondrian, Friedrich Vordemberge-Gildewart and Antoine Pevsner, among others. However, van Doesburg divided the candidates between artists whose work was still not completely abstract and those free of referentiality. As this classification entailed the possibility of a disqualification of the first group, the discussions between the two soon broke down, prompting Torres-García to team up instead with Belgian critic Michel Seuphor and form the group Cercle et Carré.

Following this, van Doesburg proceeded to propose a rival group, Art Concret, championing a geometrical abstract art closely related to the aesthetics of Neo-plasticism. In his opinion, the term ‘abstract’ as applied to art had negative connotations; in its place he preferred the more positive term ‘concrete’. Van Doesburg was eventually joined by Otto G. Carlsund, Léon Arthur Tutundjian, Jean Hélion and his fellow lodger, the typographer Marcel Wantz (1911-79), who soon left to take up a political career. In May 1930 they published a single issue of their own French-language magazine, Revue Art Concret, which featured a joint manifesto, positioning them as the more radical group of abstractionists.

We say:

Art is universal.
A work of art must be entirely conceived and shaped by the mind before its execution. It shall not receive anything of nature’s or sensuality’s or sentimentality’s formal data. We want to exclude lyricism, drama, symbolism, and so on.
The painting must be entirely built up with purely plastic elements, namely surfaces and colors. A pictorial element does not have any meaning beyond “itself”; as a consequence, a painting does not have any meaning other than “itself”.
The construction of a painting, as well as that of its elements, must be simple and visually controllable.
The painting technique must be mechanic, i.e., exact, anti-impressionistic.
An effort toward absolute clarity is mandatory.”

The group was short lived and only exhibited together on three occasions in 1930 as part of larger group exhibitions, the first being at the Salon des Surindépendents in June, followed by Production Paris 1930 in Zürich, and in August the exhibition AC: Internationell utställning av postkubistisk konst (International exhibition of post-cubist art) in Stockholm, curated by Carlsund. In the catalog to the latter, Carlsund states that the group’s “programme is clear: absolute Purism. Neo-Plasticism, Purism and Constructivism combined”. Shortly before van Doesburg’s death in 1931, the members of the Art Concret group still active in Paris united with the larger association Abstraction-Création.

Theoretical background
In 1930, Michel Seuphor had defined the role of the abstract artist in the first issue of Cercle et Carré. It was “to establish, on the foundations of a structure that is simple, severe and unadorned in every part, and within a basis of unconcealed narrow unity with this structure, an architecture which, using the technical means available to its period, expresses in a clear language that which is truly immanent and immutable.” The art historian Werner Haftmann traces the development of the pure abstraction proposed by Seuphor to the synthesis of Russian Constructivism and Dutch Neo-Plasticism in the Bauhaus, where painting abandoned the artificiality of representation for technological authenticity. “In close connection with architecture and engineering, art should endeavour to give form to life itself … [The former] provided new sources of inspiration as well as new materials – steel, aluminium, glass, synthetic materials.”

As van Doesburg had pointed out in his manifesto, in order to be universal, art must abandon subjectivity and find impersonal inspiration purely in the elements of which it is constructed: line, plane and color. Some later artists associated with this tendency, such as Victor Vasarély, Jean Dewasne, Mario Negro and Richard Mortensen, only came to painting after first studying science. Nevertheless, all theoretical advances seek justification in past practice, and in this case the mathematical proportions expressed in abstract form are to be identified in various art forms over millennia. Thus, argued Hartmann, “the elimination of representational images and the overt use of pure geometry do not imply a radical and definitive rejection of the great art of the past, but rather a reassertion of its eternal values stripped of their historical and social disguises.”

The concept of concrete art was proclaimed by the Netherlands artist Theo van Dusburg in 1924, and in 1930 it was introduced into the program that same year by the art group Art concret. It was envisaged that in the ideal case purely concrete art should be based on purely mathematical and geometric parameters. It is not abstract in the literal sense of the word, since it does not abstract material reality, but rather materializes ideal, spiritual principles. Concrete art does not have any own symbolic meaning; rather, it generates purely geometric, speculative constructions for the master.Richard Lohse saw in concrete art a form of constructivism.

The goal of concrete art, the Swiss artist and sculptor Max Bill, expressed in 1949 as follows: “ Concrete art sets itself the task of creating spiritual values that are ready to be consumed in the same way as a person creates material objects for the same. Works of concrete art at their final stage of performance are the purest standard of measure and order of harmony. It organizes systems and uses artistic means to breathe life into this ordering. “.

Concrete art differs from abstractionism and constructivism mainly in that it develops by studying the laws of mathematics and scientific thinking (first of all, the harmony of geometric figures), concentrating on the interaction of form and color in the drawing, and studies of the possibilities of color transfer. According to the ideas of artists of this direction, the artwork first had to completely “ripen” in the master’s imagination, and only then be transferred to the canvas. It should be protected from the influences of nature, feelings and reason: the lyricism and the tragedy of momentary events, symbolism, etc. should not affect the process of creation. The picture should be created solely from formal plastic elements. None of these elements of the image should have independent significance.

While Abstraction-Création was a grouping of all modernistic tendencies, there were those within it who carried the idea of mathematically inspired art and the term ‘concrete art’ to other countries when they moved elsewhere. A key figure among them was Joaquin Torres García, who returned to South America in 1934 and mentored artists there. Some of those went on to found the group Arte Concreto Invención in Buenos Aires in 1945. Another was the designer Max Bill, who had studied at the Bauhaus in 1927-9. After returning to Switzerland, he helped organize the Allianz group to champion the ideals of Concrete Art. In 1944 he organized the first international exhibition in Basle and at the same time founded abstract-konkret, the monthly bulletin of the Gallerie des Eaux Vives in Zurich. By 1960 Bill was organizing a large retrospective exhibition of Concrete Art in Zürich illustrating 50 years of its development.

Abstraction, which had been quietly gathering momentum in Italy between the world wars, emerged officially in the Movimento d’arte concreta (MAC) in 1948, whose foremost exponent, Alberto Magnelli, was another past member of Abstraction-Création and had been living in France for many years. However, some seventy native painters were represented in the Arte astratta e concreta in Italia exhibition held three years later at the National Gallery in Rome. In Paris recognition of this approach resulted in several exhibitions of which the first was titled Art Concret and held at the Gallerie René Drouin during the summer of 1945. Described as “the first major post-World War 2 exhibition of abstract art”, the artists exhibited there included the older generation of abstractionists: Jean Arp, Sophie Taeuber-Arp, Sonia Delaunay, César Domela, Otto Freundlich, Jean Gorin, Auguste Herbin, Wassily Kandinsky, Alberto Magnelli, Piet Mondrian, Antoine Pevsner and van Doesburg. In the following year a series of annual exhibitions began in the Salon des Réalités Nouvelles, which included some of these artists and were devoted, according to its articles of association, to “works of art commonly called: concrete art, non-figurative or abstract art”.

In 1951 Groupe Espace was founded in France to harmonize painting, sculpture and architecture as a single discipline. This grouped sculptors and architects with old established artists such as Sonia Delaunay and Jean Gorin and the newly emergent Jean Dewasne and Victor Vasarély. Its manifesto was published in L’Architecture d’Aujourd’hui that year and placarded on the streets of Paris, championing the fundamental presence of the plastic arts in all aspects of life for the harmonious development of all human activities. It extended beside into practical politics, having elected as its honorary president the Minister for Reconstruction and Urban Development, Eugène Claudius-Petit.

As time progressed, a distinction began to be made between ‘cold abstraction’, which was identified with geometric Concrete Art, and ‘warm abstraction’, which, as it moved towards the various kinds of Lyrical abstraction, reintroduced personality into art. The former eventually fed into international movements building on technological aspects championed by the pioneers of Concrete Art, emerging as optical art, kinetic art and programmatic art. The term Concrete also began to be extended to other disciplines than painting, including sculpture, photography and poetry. Justification for this was theorized in South America in the 1959 Neo-Concrete Manifesto, written by a group of artists in Rio de Janeiro who included Lygia Clark, Hélio Oiticica and Lygia Pape.


Theo van Doesburg
“The artwork must be (!) Fully designed and designed in the mind before it is executed. It must not contain anything of the formal conditions of nature, the senses and the feelings. We want to turn off lyricism, drama, symbolism, etc. The picture must (!) Be constructed exclusively of plastic elements, i. H. from surfaces and colors. A picture element has no other meaning than itself.
… because we have left the time of searching and speculative experiments behind us. In search of purity, the artists were forced to destroy the natural form. Today, the idea of the art form is as outdated as the idea of the natural form.
We foresee the time of pure painting. For nothing is more concrete, more real than a line, a color, a surface… Concrete and not abstract painting. Because the mind has reached the state of maturity. He needs clear, intellectual means to manifest himself in a concrete way.
… Color is the basic substance of painting; it only means itself. Painting is a means to visually realize the idea: every image is a color thought… Before the work is translated into matter, it is completely in consciousness (!). It is also necessary that (!) The realization has a technical perfection equal to that of the intellectual design… We work with the magnitudes of mathematics – Euclidean or non-Euclidean – and science, that is, with the means of thinking. ”
“Painting is a means to visually realize the idea”.

Richard Paul Lohse
“The number replaces the individual, themes take over the expressive function of the element” -… – “The crucial task is to activate the systematic-logical process in such a way that (!) A dynamic artistic formulation emerges and the principles of order emerge as a means to classify this intention. ”

Max Bill
As a goal of Concrete Art Max Bill formulated in 1949 in his introduction to the catalog of the exhibition Zurich concrete art: “… the goal of concrete art is to develop objects for intellectual use, much as man creates objects for the material use. concrete art in its final consequence is the pure expression of harmonic measure and law. It organizes systems and gives life to these rules with artistic means. ”
Max Bill 1947: “The goal of Concrete Art is to develop objects for spiritual use, much as man creates objects for material use. (…) Concrete art, in its final consequence, is the pure expression of harmonious measure and law. It arranges systems and gives life to these orders by artistic means. ”

Introductory text of the homepage of the Museum of Concrete Art in Ingolstadt
“… Concrete art (is) an immediate art movement based on sensual experience that can be grasped even without any prior knowledge, but necessarily without prejudice. It is a non-figurative art in painting, sculpture, film or installations that does not want to depict the visible world. Therefore, the colors, shapes, the line and the materials are of particular importance. (…) It was not until 1930 that the term “Concrete Art” came to pass through a text by the artist Theo van Doesburg for various non-figurative and geometric positions. (…) Especially through the reduction to the reception in Switzerland, the so-called “Zurich concretes”, the concrete art was defined very narrowly. (… ) But the logical painting of Richard Paul Lohse wants to illustrate more than just mathematical laws. Lohse, in particular, had great social goals and, through his art, wanted to make systems and structures visible and thus reformable. (…) The generation of artists born in the 1970s would never be labeled “Concrete Art”. The term has become historical, but the content is as relevant as it was at the beginning of the 20th century. ”

International dimension

City Group Year Artists
Buenos Aires Asociación Arte Concreto Invención 1945
Buenos Aires Movimento Madi 1946 Carmelo Arden Quin, Gyula Kosice, Rhod Rothfuss, Martín Blaszko, Diyi Laañ, Elizabeth Steiner, Juan Bay
Copenhagen Linien II 1947 Ib Geertsen, Bamse Kragh-Jacobsen, Niels Macholm, Albert Mertz, Richard Winther, Helge Jacobsen
Milan Movimento Arte Concreta (MAC) 1948 Atanasio Soldati, Gillo Dorfles, Bruno Munari, Gianni Monnet
Zagreb Group Exat 51 1951
Paris Group Espace 1951
Montevideo Grupo de Arte No Figurativo 1952 José Pedro Costigliolo, María Freire, Antonio Llorens
Rio de Janeiro Grupo Frente 1952 Aluísio Carvão, Carlos Val, Décio Vieira, Ivan Serpa, João José da Silva Costa, Lygia Clark, Lygia Pape, Vicent Ibberson
São Paulo Grupo Ruptura 1952 Waldemar Cordeiro, Geraldo de Barros, Luis Sacilotto, Lothar Charroux, Kazmer Fejer, Anatol Wladslaw, Leopoldo Haar
Ulm Hochschule für Gestaltung 1953
Cordoba Equipo 57 1957
Padua Gruppo N 1959 Alberto Biasi, Ennio Chiggio, Toni Costa, Edoardo Landi, Manfredo Massironi.
Milan Gruppo T 1959 Giovanni Anceschi (1939), Davide Boriani (1936), Gabriele De Vecchi (1938), Gianni Colombo (1937-1993) e Grazia Varisco (1937)
Paris Motus/GRAV 1960 Hugo Demarco, Moyano, Horacio Garcia Rossi, Julio Le Parc, Francois Morellet, Francisco Sobrino, Yvaral (Jean Pierre Vasarely)
Cleveland Anonima Group 1960
Rome Gruppo Uno 1962 Gastone Biggi, Nicola Carrino, Nato Frascà, Achille Pace, Pasquale Santoro, Giuseppe Uncini. Palma Bucarelli
Havana Los Diez Pintores Concretos 1957-1961 Pedro de Oraá, Loló Soldevilla, Sandú Darié, Pedro Carmelo Álvarez López, Wifredo Arrcay Ochandarena, Salvador Zacarías Corratgé Ferrera, Luis Darío Martínez Pedro, José María Mijares Fernández, Rafael Soriano López, and José Ángel Rosabal Fajardo