Georges Vantongerloo
Year, Birthplace 1886, Belgium
Year, Place of death 1965, France
Georges Vantogerloo studied at the academies of fine arts in Antwerp (1900-1904) and Brussels (1906-1909), where he painted both figurative and post-impressionist works. During the First World War, he lived in the Netherlands and dedicated himself to architectural drawings. As he was passionate about science and mathematics, he tended increasingly towards abstraction and the study of space. In 1917, he met Piet Mondrian, Bart van der Leck and Theo van Doesburg. The latter worked on a year-long project for a magazine whose content was based on Mondrian’s theory of neoplasticism. The first issue, entitled De Stijl, was published in Leiden in October of that year. Vantongerloo was invited to cooperate and sign the founding manifesto, in which he published a series on ‘Reflections on space’ between 1918 and 1920. He then created different variations on the theme Construction in the sphere, the first series of abstract sculptures unconnected to reality. Inter-related volumetric constructions, first presented in Brussels in 1918, were a development of the work that he had begun in the Netherlands. After the end of the war in 1920, he settled in Menton, on the Côte d'Azur. His paintings are similar to those of Mondrian but more colourful. He created useful objects such as tea and coffee sets, as well as furniture. He also thought through his first architectural projects. In 1924, he published his theoretical ideas in a pamphlet, L’Art et son Avenir, a work that would influence the Bauhaus. In 1927, he moved permanently to Paris where he would remain until his death in 1965. He applied mathematical principles to his art, experimenting with volumes and planes as well as bold architectural and urban projects, such as a city of skyscrapers, a bridge in Anvers or an airport in Paris (projects exhibited at the Musée des arts décoratifs in Paris in 1930). From 1928 onwards, he dedicated himself, together with Auguste Herbin, to the groups Cercle et Carré and Abstraction-Création, which were important movements in the defence of geometric abstract art. Their participation in exhibitions (Abstrakte und surrealistiche Malerei und Plastik, Zurich, 1929; Cubism and Abstract Art, MoMA, New York, 1936; Konstuktivisten, Kunsthalle, Basel, 1937; Abstracte Kunst, Amsterdam, 1938...) were rare but fundamental. His first solo exhibition was at the Galerie Berri in Paris in 1943: at a time when he saw himself confronted with serious financial difficulties, despite the help of his friend Max Bill, it was not remotely successful. After 1938, he moved away from constructed and rectilinear geometry, introducing dynamic and flexible curves to his paintings and sculptures. Around the mid-1940s, he dedicated himself to producing refined and delicate objects with wires, rubber and springs that evoke a cosmic universe, as in his painting, in which spirals and scrolls, thin brushstrokes of bright colour, appear against light backgrounds. After the war, in 1946, he rediscovered abstract painters and sculptors at the Salon des Réalités Nouvelles [New Realities Salon], as he was responsible for the architecture of the exhibition. After 1958, he employed transparent materials and used his works of art in order to represent natural phenomena, including light radiation, the attraction and repulsion of atoms, planetary systems, and plays of light (he was very impressed when he saw the Northern Lights in Norway in 1960). Max Bill dedicated himself to supporting him and making sure that his work was recognized. He organized an exhibition at the Kunsthaus in Zurich in 1949 (where he also exhibited some of his own work with Antoine Pevsner). Thanks to his friend, Vantongerloo also staged his own exhibition at Suzanne Bollag's gallery, also in Zurich, in 1961; and the following year a major retrospective exhibition of his work was held at the Marlborough New London Gallery in London. His art evolved from being rigorously formal to conveying an intuitive vision, subtly painted with authentic poetry. Although he led an isolated life, he did not lose contact with the art world. Between 1950 and 1960, surrounded by his works in his studio, he received a number of young artists who were attracted by this character, simultaneously a participant in and witness to certain important pages in the history of modernism. AC