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Concrete art

The Dutch artist Theo van Doesburg invented the term Concrete art in 1930 to refer to abstract art that was based not in nature but in geometry and the formal properties of art itself—color and form, in the case of painting; volume and contour, in the case of sculpture. The term was popular before and after World War II, due to the proselytizing of the artist Josef Albers, who emigrated to the United States from Germany in 1933, and of his student Max Bill, who first applied the term to his own work in 1936.

In Concrete art, an appearance of “objectivity” is sought. The artist’s personal touch is smoothed over, yielding art objects that sometimes appear to have been made by machine. Individual works vary from the mathematically precise compositions by Richard Paul Lohse, which anticipated op art, to Max Bill’s undulating three-dimensional abstractions, which suggest the principles of physics and aerodynamics.

Concrete art has lost currency since the 1950s, but the underlying idea that an artwork has value as an independent object, even if it doesn’t illuminate social concerns or express an artist’s emotions, has been extremely influential. Direct and indirect links connect Concrete art and Color Field painting, Op art, and other constructivism-derived styles.

Extracts from 'Artspeak' by Robert Atkins (copyright (©) 1990, 1997 by Robert Atkins) reproduced by permission of Abbeville Press, Inc.