Dutch artist Theo van Doesburg wrote his Manifesto for Concrete Art in the only ever issue of Art Concret magazine, published in Paris. Born out of a reaction to the growing Surrealist movement and emerging from the aftermath of De Stijl, Concrete Art placed its emphasis on geometrical abstraction, and set out rules for artists to adhere to. Work would be universal; it would be planned not spontaneous; it would be built up purely of surfaces and colors; it would always aim for clarity and simplicity and it would avoid Impressionism. “Today, the idea of ‘artistic form’ is as obsolete as the idea of ‘natural form’, van Doesburg wrote. “We establish the period of pure painting by constructing ‘spiritual form’. Creative spirit becomes concrete.”
Van Doesburg died in 1931 but the movement lived on, particularly through the work of designer Max Bill of the Bauhaus who organized Concrete Art’s first group show in 1944 and would go on to curate retrospectives and publish monthly bulletins around the theme, as well as promoting it across Latin America. Post-World War Two, the movement spread with its rules and principles incorporated by other art groups and movements. The work that has resulted is diverse and multi-faceted, but always clean, always striking and always visually impactful. Here are the best pieces from the Artspace archive, which have been inspired by Concrete Art, and are available nowShizuko Yoshikawa is an abstract painter born in 1934 in Japan. She was one of the first Japanese students to attend the Ulm School of Design, the German institution generally regarded as the successor to the Bauhaus. Having married Swiss designer Josef Müller-Brockmann, she would spend most of her life in Switzerland, until her death in 2019.
She’s a notable figure within Concrete Art for several reasons – partly her uncommon Japanese heritage, but also for being a woman working within a discipline which was typically very male-dominated. Angel Statue Her monograph describes her painting – marked by a slightly lighter, more spacious feel than the work of many of her male peers – as combining ‘the rational concepts of European modern art with the poetry and ease of the Zen tradition.’ This piece dates from 1994, Yoshikawa’s arrangement of pink, green, blue and yellow angles printed as a color silkscreen, signed and dated in an edition of 50. A perfect piece by one of the unsung talents of Concrete Art. Take a closer look here.
Hungarian-German graphic artist Imre Kosics learned his craft and developed as an artist through some of Europe’s most turbulent years. Beginning his studies in 1958 at the College of Fine Arts in Hamburg, he formally emigrated from Communist-controlled Europe to Germany a year later, eventually settling in Dusseldorf in 1971. The late Seventies and early Eighties saw him take up a residency at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam with other postings following at MoMA PS1 in New York and the Department of Sculpture in Reykjavik. In Kosics’ earlier work he moved through experiments with more standard figurative work, but from 1968 he radically altered course and started to explore how shape, line and negative space could be used to create an image, while aggressively paring his palette down to black and white. The large-scale paintings he produced from this point on are the product of an artist with a complete grasp of form, optical effects and geometry. What appears to be incredibly simple work reveals real depth and complexity the longer you work with it. This edition is an edition of 230 and is signed in pencil. Take a closer look here.