‘The art in question can, perhaps, best be defined as the building up of significant patterns from the ever-changing relations, rhythms and proportions of abstract forms, each one of which, having its own causality, is tantamount to a law unto itself. As such, it presents some analogy to mathematics…’—Max Bill (1949)
This December, the exhibition ‘space-time continuity’ at the gallery’s new space on Bahnhofstrasse 1 will examine the dialogue between Max Bill, artist, designer, theorist, writer, curator and pedagogue, and a group of his contemporaries who explored a similar territory to his own art and ideas. Many of the works on display are from Max Bill’s private collection, indicating personal friendships as well as aesthetic exchanges.
‘space-time continuity’ is a testament to Bill’s proximity with, and attentiveness to, his artist peers and shows how he was at the very centre of the conversation to develop a radical new art. The artists featured in this exhibition alongside Max Bill include Josef Albers, Hans Arp, László Moholy-Nagy, Kurt Schwitters, Fritz Glarner, Sophie Taeuber-Arp and Georges Vantongerloo amongst others.
Max Bill’s contribution stems from the way we define and describe the art on view: the precise manner he approached the use of terms such as abstract, concrete, construction, non-objective; and the relationship between art, geometry, and mathematics. At the centre of the exhibition is an extraordinary, white marble sculpture by Bill, titled ‘konstruktion aus einem kreisring’ (Construction from a Ring) (1942), which is shown alongside two - and three dimensional works spanning from the 1940s to the 1970s, such as ‘drei linien’ (three lines) (1944-46) and ‘acht flächen gleicher grösse‘ (Eight Fields of Equal Surface) (1970-1971). The exhibition offers a way to understand Bill’s own consistent journey as an artist in the context of an ongoing aesthetic conversation and exploration of form.
The title ‘space-time continuity’ refers to Bill’s as well as Vantongerloo’s engagement with mathematics, logic and physics, and with the crucial impact of Albert Einstein on their work, in particular Einstein’s Theory of Relativity (1915), which explored the link between space and time. Building on his teacher Hermann Minkowski’s geometric interpretation of relativity, Einstein united the three spatial dimensions and the fourth dimension of time and introduced the idea of the space-time continuum.
Such a continuum was expressed by Bill through his moebius-shaped sculptures of endless ribbons, and by Vantongerloo particularly in his hanging works, such as ‘Ligne circulaire et cercle à rayons variables’ (Circular line and circle with changeable radii) (1946). Both artists explore the possibilities of topological form in a variety of materials. Through these shapes Bill and Vantongerloo sought to express ideas of continuity and infinity in their work, as well as exhibiting their profound interest in a changing understanding of energy, movement, cosmology and astrophysics.
Not only did Bill create his own sculptural monument to Einstein in 1979-82, he also acquired the stone threshold from the physicist’s house in Ulm, bought from the builders demolishing the building, and installed it in the garden of his self-designed Zumikon house. Such gestures indicate the perpetual interest of the artist in themes shared between art, mathematics and science. The artists included in this exhibition also testify to another kind of continuity: that of the individual dialogues, aesthetic relationships and of Concrete art through the decades.
Sophie Taeuber-Arp (1889 – 1943) is one of the most important artists of the twentieth-century avant-garde and is considered a pioneer of Constructivist art. Reconciling extremes with conﬁdence—Dada and Geometric Abstraction, ﬁne art and utilitarian objects—Taeuber-Arp’s works boldly engaged with the intellectual context of international modernism. Through her multi-faceted approach to media, she challenged traditional hierarchies between ﬁne and applied art, and asserted art’s urgent relevance to daily life. Taeuber-Arp deﬁed categorization during her brief career through her work as a painter, sculptor, architect, performer, choreographer, teacher, writer, and designer of textiles, stage sets and interiors.
Georges Vantongerloo, born in Antwerp, Belgium, was a sculptor, painter, architect, designer and theorist, and a member of De Stijl. While living in Holland and working on architectural designs during the years of World War I, Vantongerloo became part of the circle of Piet Mondrian, Bart van der Leck, and Theo van Doesburg, who founded the magazine ‘De Stijl’ in 1917. In 1924 Vantongerloo published his pamphlet ‘L’Art et son avenir’ and in 1931 joined the Abstraction-Création group, which counted among its members Piet Mondrian, Barbara Hepworth, Robert and Sonia Delaunay, Hans Arp and Sophie Taeuber-Arp, Wassily Kandinsky, Josef Alberts, László Moholy-Nagy and Max Bill. From the end of the 1930s onward, Vantongerloo distanced himself from the straight line in favour of the curved line, producing influential work characterized by greater lyrical compositions and plays of transparency, color, and light.
Max Bill was a great Swiss polymath: an artist, architect, industrial designer, graphic designer, and teacher. He attended the Bauhaus where he was taught by Josef Albers, László Moholy-Nagy, Paul Klee, Wassily Kandinsky and Oskar Schlemmer. Bill remained closely associated with the Bauhaus school and was a key figure in developing and propagating its principles, especially through his professorship at the Kunstgewerbeschule Zürich and as a founder of the Ulm School of Design. Through his pursuit of a new visual language that could be understood by the senses alone, Bill defined the conventions of Swiss design for decades to come. His influence spread even as far as South America, where he was a catalyst for the Concrete Art movement.
Max Bill’s work will also be presented at Hauser & Wirth New York, 69th Street, in the exhibition ‘max bill & georges vantongerloo. crossover’, opening on 27 January 2022.
‘space-time continuity’ is on view now through 22 January 2022 at Hauser & Wirth Zurich, Bahnhofstrasse 1.