The Art of Concrete

The Art of Concrete

05th November 2015

Over the past couple of months we’ve been taking quite a detailed look at concrete, one of the most versatile materials on our planet. We’ve learned how it was discovered back in Roman Times, all about the different types of concrete available and how concrete has been brought bang up to date for the 21st Century by applying the very latest in nanotechnology and microbiology. Today we’re going to take a look at the Art of Concrete and how a concrete art installation won the Turner Prize.

Concrete art is described as abstract art “that is entirely free of any basis in observed reality and that has no symbolic meaning” – that’s according to the Tate and is used to describe the Concrete Art Movement. The term “concrete art” was coined by Theo van Doesburg in 1930 when he published his manifesto titled “The Basis of Concrete Art”. With a strong emphasis on abstraction, concrete art was intended to emanate directly from the mind and therefore is deemed more “cerebral” than general abstract art. Artworks are often composed of basic visual features such as planes, forms and colours and the “hand” of the artist is often difficult to detect in the finished work, many of which appear to have been made by a machine.

One of the representatives of concrete art was Max Bill (1908 – 1994) a Swiss architect, painter, artist, typeface designer, industrial designer and graphic designer. Following an apprenticeship as a silversmith, Bill studied art at the world famous Bauhaus school of art in Germany where he was fortunate enough to be taught by Wassily Kandinsky, Paul Klee and Oskar Schlemmer. He then moved to Zurich where he built his own house and studio and had a decisive influence on Swiss graphic design. In 1944, Bill promoted concrete art by organising the first ever international exhibition of the movement. He carried on as a pioneer in the field of concrete art with further exhibitions, including the 1950 Concrete Art exhibition which illustrated 50 years of development within the movement.

We’re now taking another look at concrete art in which concrete is the main material used in the work of art. Rachel Whiteread is an English artists who primarily producers sculptures from casts. She was born and raised in Essex and studied art at the Faculty of Arts and Architecture in Brighton, graduating with a BA in painting. She also took a workshop in sculpture and became fascinated with the possibilities offered by casting objects. She went on to study sculpture at the Slade School of Art in London and worked for a while at Highgate Cemetery fixing the lids back onto damaged coffins!

However, art was calling her and in 1993, Rachel became the first woman to win the Turner Prize for the work “House”. House was a temporary public sculpture which was a concrete cast of the inside of an entire three storey house, including the basement, ground floor, first floor (including stairs and bay windows) but did not include the roof space (perhaps she knew how dangerous working on fragile roofs is!). The casting took place from August to October and was opened to the public on 25th October 1993. House became a popular visitor attraction, despite being described as a “monstrosity” by the chair of the local council. The local council eventually decided to demolish House despite a petition to save it as a permanent feature and the structure was demolished in two hours on 11th January, 1994.