Recent Articles
News Of A Very Special Auction Happening Next Week
Investment Pieces
News Of A Very Special Auction Happening Next Week
10 Questions for LatchKey Gallery co-founders
10 x 10 x 10
10 Questions for LatchKey Gallery co-founders Natalie Kates and Amanda L. Uribe
INTERVIEW: Elmgreen & Dragset
Meet the Artist
INTERVIEW: Elmgreen & Dragset 'What We Need to do, As Cultural Workers Today, Is to Find a New Way of Getting Back Our Dignity as Citizens'
10 Questions for RESORT Gallery co-founders Seth Adelsberger and
10 x 10 x 10
10 Questions for RESORT Gallery co-founders Seth Adelsberger and Alex Ebstein
10 Questions for River Gallery Founder Carl E. Smith
10 x 10 x 10
10 Questions for River Gallery Founder Carl E. Smith
10 Questions for Davis Editions and Originals Founder Jeff Davis
10 x 10 x 10
10 Questions for Davis Editions and Originals Founder Jeff Davis
10 Questions for Baby Blue Gallery Founder Caleb Beck
10 x 10 x 10
10 Questions for Baby Blue Gallery Founder Caleb Beck
10 Questions for Carvalho Park's Jennifer Carvalho
10 x 10 x 10
10 Questions for Carvalho Park co-Founder Jennifer Carvalho
The Making of Love, Rihanna: Luxury Supreme
Close Look
'A Piece of Art That I am Really Proud Of' - Rihanna on Love, Rihanna: Luxury Supreme
INTERVIEW: Sterling Ruby
Meet the Artist
INTERVIEW: Sterling Ruby 'In America, often the response to negative aspects of the system is to retreat to platitudes about morals and family values. In this way nothing is achieved.'
INTERVIEW: Kerry James Marshall
Meet the Artist
INTERVIEW: Kerry James Marshall 'I never think of artworks as having a quality that’s intended to mobilize people to action. They don’t make people do things. But they do put questions in the mind of a viewer that they may not have entertained before...'
Come On Our Virtual Studio Visit With Maria Jimena Herrera
Meet the Artist
Come On Our Virtual Studio Visit With Maria Jimena Herrera
Jeff Koons on Big Ideas and Gazing Balls
Perspectives
Jeff Koons on Desire, Beauty, the Vastness of the Universe, and the Intimacy of Right Here, Right Now
Could Artist Collectives Transform A Post-Corona Art World?
On Trend
Could Artist Collectives Transform A Post-Corona Art World?
INTERVIEW: Sarah Sze on How all Art is Essentially Sculpture
Meet the Artist
INTERVIEW: Sarah Sze on the Changing Pace of Time and Space, the Ebb and Flow of Information, and How all Art is Essentially Sculpture

Art 101

What Makes Geometric Abstraction So Exciting?

By

What Makes Geometric Abstraction So Exciting?
Josef Albers's "Portfolio 1, Folder 17, Image 2 Framed Silkscreen," 1972.

When abstract art burst onto the stage in the Western art world in the early 20th century, its practitioners quickly resolved themselves into two distinct camps: the gestural abstractionists, who built upon the liberatingly loose compositions of Post-Impressionists like Cezanne to create non-objective paintings emphasizing the artist's hand, and the geometric abstractionists, who seized on the it-is-what-it-is essentialism of Euclidean geometric shapes.

Following the developments of Cubist and Futurist painting—in which the natural world was translated into a stark pictorial language of shapes, lines, and angles—Russia was one of the primary breeding grounds of pure abstraction, with Wassily Kandinsky doing much to popularize geometric art before gravitating to the gestural camp in later years. But it was Kazimir Malevich who today is often viewed as the forefather of geometric abstraction, beginning with his seminal 1915 paintings of black shapes—a circle, a square—on a white ground, and his legendary white-square-on-white-canvas 1919 monochrome.

Installation view of "0.10 (Zero-Ten) The Last Futurist Exhibition of Painting."
Though geometry can seem dry and mute in comparison to the flights of fancy in gestural abstraction, the artists who pursued meaning in its rigorous shapes found it anything but. Malevich—who called his visually simple but theoretically dense approach "Suprematism"—declared that his intention was to use geometry to convey "the primacy of pure feeling in creative art," and through it he created totemic works of strange, atavistic power.

RELATED ARTICLE: What Was Suprematism? A Brief History of the Russian Idealists Who Created Abstraction as We Know It

His confederate, El Lissitzky, on the other hand, painted lively compositions with shapes that often seem to dance on the canvas, using precise balances of shapes and colors to tell spatial stories—for instance, suggesting that a static shape is actually in the process of falling, or rising—or even convey political propaganda. (The most famous example of this is the 1919 pro-Bolshevik poster Beat the Whites With the Red Wedge.) Mondrian, of course, elevated these spatial dynamics to the point where his last painting, Broadway Boogie Woogie, nearly reverted to representationalism by so vividly evoking the traffic flow of New York City's streets.

Piet Mondrian, Broadway Boogie Woogie, 1942-43. Image via Wikipedia.
From these beginnings, geometric abstraction endured throughout the 20th century as a visual and theoretical counterpoint to gestural movements like Abstract Expressionism, rendered by different artists in many different ways. Josef Albers, for instance, employed compositions of layered squares to explore the manifold qualities of color, considering how different hues relate to each other and their effect on the perception of viewers. Other artists brought geometric shapes into three dimensions as sculpture, with Sol LeWitt's cubic stacks being expressions of conceptual-art ideas, Dan Flavin's fluorescent-light arrangements functioning as paragons of Minimalism, and Richard Tuttle's scrappy arrangements recalling the playfullness of El Lissitzky.

Sol LeWitt, Black Bands in Two Directions, 1991 is available on Artspace for $4,700
Meanwhile, still other artists looked back on Malevich's monochrome with paintings that conveyed form only through the shape of the canvas, like Robert Rauschenberg's early 1951 white paintings (which he considered stages for the interplay of ambient light and shadow) and Brice Marden's imposing examples from the 1960s. Artists associated with "hard-edge" painting in the 1960s, such as Ellsworth Kelly, Kenneth Noland, and Frank Stella, rejected the subjective, gestural emphasis of Abstract Expressionism in favor of sharply defined areas of color.

Sarah Morris, Rings, 2009 is available for $2,900


Today the lineage of geometric abstraction is being continued by younger artists in all manner of ways, from the crisp paintings of Sarah Morris that combine Mondrian's compositional intricacy with vernacular touches to the colorful arrangements of talents like Mai Braun that pursue an obsession with color that Albers would recognize. To see a variety of approaches to this powerful approach to art, explore our geometric abstraction collection.

[geometric-abstraction-module]

RELATED ARTICLES:

Art You Should Know: Seven 21st-Century Masterpieces

What Is Abject Art? (Tell Me That's Not What I Think It Is...)

4 Reasons to Collect the Colorful Geometries of Geoffrey Todd Smith

DISCOVER

a treasure trove of fine art from the world's most renowned artists, galleries, museums and cultural institutions. We offer exclusive works you can't find anywhere else.

LEARN

through exclusive content featuring art news, collecting guides, and interviews with artists, dealers, collectors, curators and influencers.

BUY

authentic artworks from across the globe. Collecting with us means you're helping to sustain creative culture and supporting organizations that are making the world a better place.

CONNECT

with our art advisors for buying advice or to help you find the art that's perfect for you. We have the resources to find works that suit your needs.

INSIDER ACCESS TO THE WORLD'S BEST ART

Artspace offers you authentic, exclusive works from world-renowned artists, galleries, museums and cultural institutions. Collecting with us helps support creative culture while bringing you art news, interviews and access to global art resources.

  • COLLECT FROM 300+ GALLERIES & MUSEUMS