… 6. The technique is not part of the image, thus there is no surface “treatment” — ars est celare artem. “No handwriting, no interesting surface.” “Construction, not expression.” Constructivist work, therefore, usually appears clean, pure, effortless, without élan, sense of speed, or urgency. The clean, quiet qualities are not a purpose but a by-product. From them comes the “untouched-by-human-hand” look. Industrial materials are used frankly, without any attempt at enhancement, so that they reveal their own qualities as steel, brass, plastic, cement; preoccupation with materials for their own sake would be digressive.
… 9. … the image has not been “abstracted” from forms in nature (as in Cubism), or made to echo them (biomorphic abstraction). Yet this does not rule out the visual environment as a source of images, e.g., the square and cube can be found in iron pyrites, the circle in the sun and the moon, the rhombus in other crystals. Irregular shapes, too, can be borrowed from the environment, or from tradition, which is a reservoir of all forms. It is the shape, however, that the Constructivist takes, and the object and its associations are left.
[ … ]
… There had been no counterpart of Abstract Expressionism in sculpture. It was impossible to translate the ideas of Action Painting into the obdurate materials employed in sculpture, which now took a different direction from painting. As a consequence, sculpture, with its many technical problems, was, during the ascendency of Abstract Expressionism, kept in the shade until the sixties, though the number of sculptors was increasing. Changes were wrought, nevertheless, and a foundation was laid for a great expansion of ideas as to what sculpture is …
… For centuries, sculpture had depended entirely on modeling and carving — until 1918, that is, when Picasso’s three-dimensional collages inspired Tatlin. Even then, these constructions added only nailing and gluing to the repertory, though the forging of iron had been a highly developed craft for two thousand years and had been used for figurative sculpture outside of Europe.
Julio Gonzalez, the Spanish friend of Picasso, began, because of poverty, to make sculpture with a welding torch and scrap iron, which became more and more abstract. He forged his first iron sculptures in 1926-27 and passed on his knowledge to Picasso who made only occasional use of it. “To project and design in space with the help of new methods, to utilize this space, and to construct with it, as though one were dealing with a newly acquired material — that is all I attempt.” … Sculptors before Gonzalez knew less about forging than a medieval armorer.
… it is the welded steel joint which has made possible the development of the space sculpture envisioned in the “Realist Manifesto.” Appearing first in art about 1930, it has been developed mostly since 1945. It has permitted the sculptor to out-distance the architect and even the bridgebuilder in his penetration and enlivening of space. With the directness of the welded joint and the strength of steel, powerful salients into the newly perceived space have become possible. Ships’ rigging, cranes, circus tents, and umbrellas were antecedents of this kind of penetration of space.
… This extension of the third way of making sculpture — that is, by joining — begun by the early Constructivists and by Gonzalez, then vastly expanded by [David] Smith’s imaginative use of industrial techniques, has made possible cantilever, counterpoise, and penetration into space hitherto undreamed of in sculpture. Its use is as characteristically twentieth-century as the skyscraper.
… A frequent comment on present-day Constructivism is that the artists repeat: they plagiarise themselves: they manufacture a product. … [However] There is a belief, special to our time, that an artist must develop exhaustively all the possibilities of minute differences within a particular idea. This procedure, while resembling science, is not borrowed from it; the scientist, as soon as a new door is open, passes through. But an artist will linger and examine every aspect of the room, even when the doors are open. So it is to be expected that Heniz Mack will make a series of round glasses, Uecker will continue to use nails, Dorazio will make nets of colored straight lines, Mavignier will paint only dots, Poons only spots, and Albers need never leave the square.
… A further extension of Constructivist thought in the last decade … is a resort to nature, but with a difference. Nature as landscape, still-life, or portraiture is ignored; but nature, as a great fount of physical phenomena, inexorable laws, and orderly relationships, is investigated by the artist and made the vehicle for his statement. Forces such as gravity, or energy such as light, serve as stimuli for the observer, supplanting those projections of the appearance of the natural world which formerly had made the face of art. Thus nature, as aerodynamics, mathematical relationships, probability, chance, or magnetic lines of force is turned, by the artist’s hand, to confront the observer. The artist himself then withdraws, sometimes covering his tracks by the use of an alter fabricator as his alter ego, and a title which reads like a science textbook.
These artists have created new space in and around the object, which itself exhibits new kinds of surface; they exploit the peculiarities of the human optical system itself, instead of that system’s record of the world outside; they use randomness, indeterminacy, exact repetition and self-perpetuating diversity as expressive means; they divide a surface into minute autonomous particles and render infinitesimal differences as active contrasts. While neither mathematical nor scientific, they borrow the material (not the method) of mathematics and science and set them up as “found objects” in contexts of their own making.