Abstract Critical

Annely Juda: Line and Circle

Written by Sam Cornish

On until the 23rd of March at Annely Juda is Line and Circle: 20thC Avant-Garde Painting and Sculpture. The exhibition includes work by Ben Nicholson, Friedrich Vordemberge-Gildewart, Ivan Kliun, Kasimir Malevich, Olga Rozanova, Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, Joseph Albers, Liubov Popova, Max Bill, Alexandra Exter,  Naum Gabo and Anthony Caro. Particularly recommended is Rozanova’s beautiful collage of 1916, Gebet um den Sieg (which you can see here). All images courtesy of Annely Juda Fine Art.

L-R: Friedrich Vordemberge-Gildewart; Olga Rozanova; Alexandra Exter; Liubov Popova; Naum Gabo; Ivan Kliun

L-R: Friedrich Vordemberge-Gildewart; Olga Rozanova; Alexandra Exter; Liubov Popova; Naum Gabo; Ivan Kliun


Ivan Kliun; Naum Gabo; Liubov Popova

Ivan Kliun; Naum Gabo; Liubov Popova


Paintings by Friedrich Vordemberge-Gildewart; sculpture by Anthony Caro

Paintings by Friedrich Vordemberge-Gildewart; sculpture by Anthony Caro


Ben Nicholson x 2; Kennth Martin; Naum Gabo

Ben Nicholson x 2; Kenneth Martin; Naum Gabo



  1. Terry Ryall said…

    I quite understand a concern to understand the historic context and background against which a particular work of art, at any given time, has been produced. Such information however is not a measure of visual quality and neither is the influence that a particular work of art might subsequently have exerted necessarily reflective of its quality. If an explanation of context is necessary for the ‘understanding’ of Black Square then to echo the thoughts from the Albert Oehlen discussion we will have moved to an area outside of the context within which visual art can meaningfully be discussed.

    • John Bunker said…

      Terry you are talking as though the arguments between Michael Fried and TJ Clark never happened! ( a nice idea maybe but none the less it is an important ‘historical’ debate!)
      Have you seen a rather reverential TJ talking to Clem The Man? Or a kind of Truth and Reconciliation meeting in front of a Pollock between Fried and Clark?
      Fascinating YouTube experiences (almost as good as Gangnam Style vid!)



      • Terry Ryall said…

        John, I’m not clear as to exactly which part of my post betrays my ignorance (for that is exactly what it is) about the arguments between Michael Fried and TJ Clark (I will freely confess at this point to an almost scandalous neglect of my subject, at least at the theoretical level, since I left Art School!). But no matter, if they concluded something specific that blows a hole in anything that I’ve said then I will definitely look at it. By the way who is Clem The Man? Is he some sort of Mythical figure? He he!

  2. Alan Fowler said…

    The contradictory comments about this exhibition by Colette MdM and Robin G perhaps unwittingly demonstrate a major problem in much of the art writing about abstraction – the ultimate subjectivity of any viewer’s personal response to an work of abstract art. Once discussion and analysis of theory, history and technique have been dealt with or set aside, one is left, as a viewer, with the quality of the visual experience of ‘looking’. And this can result – as is the case with the works in this exhibition – of one person saying ‘sublime’ and another equally intelligent person saying ‘boring’.
    It so happens that I lean in Colette’s direction so far as work by most of the artists in this exhibition is concerned, because I get more pleasure or satisfaction from qualities such as clarity, precision and balance than from unstructured gesture, but that doesn’t entitle me to suggest that the former is ‘better’ than the latter. I don’t know why I have this preference – something to do with one’s psychological make-up I suppose – and I don’t think it contributes constructively to any discussion simply to make generalisations about the artistic quality of whole swathes of art or art styles simply on the basis of these highly personal predilections.
    What I find most interesting about ‘Line and Circle’ (aside from liking or disliking any particular work) is its obvious reference to the Cercle et Carre group, formed by Seuphor in 1929, as a counter to Surrealism. Look at it in that light and it can, perhaps, provide intellectual interest whether or not the actual imagery is subjectively appealing.

    • Robin Greenwood said…

      You are quite right, of course, to say that the comments by Colette and me in this instance do not really contribute anything constructive – unless, that is, they can spark some kind of meaningful discourse. I think I was responding to her gross exaggeration with something close to facetiousness. If these are such masterpieces, I can only wonder at where one places the best achievements of Rubens and Titian, for example. Are they on a par?

      I would be very happy to explain why I think these works are (objectively) boring, compared with, say, Rubens; but perhaps Colette or you would like to have a go first at saying why they are supreme masterpieces? Or even ‘quite good’?

      I think the comment about your interest in the counter to Surrealism made by such works as these is rather more subjective than you suggest; it avoids the difficult business of an attempt at objective analysis of achievement in favour of the easier business of discussing context.

      • Alan Fowler said…

        My comment was limited to abstract art, so for me the question of comparisons with Rubens or any other figurative artist doesn’t arise within the context of this discussion, though the abstract/figurative relationship could form the topic of a wider and fascinating debate. Neither would I claim, even within abstraction,that these works are necessarily “sublime masterpieces” – I’ll leave that to Colette.
        What I was trying to do was highlight the subjectivity involved in personal choices which rate one work over another or which describe in qualitative terms a person’s intuitive response to any art work.

        I’ld be very interested, Robin, how you might justify “boring” as an objective description – boring is surely an essentially subjective response ?

        As to my reference to Cercle et Carre and its overtly stated counter to Surrealism, this is surely a matter of factual history. And rather than it being an easier business than discussing achievement, I think the concepts propounded by Seuphor and others help to explain the nature of the art they produced and thus add intellectual interest to whatever the quality of the viewer’s subjective visual experience may be. Is that being subjective ?

      • Robin Greenwood said…

        To be brief, let’s take that Caro in the middle of the third photo. A simple, flat arrangement with no attempt at engaging three-dimensions. There is observably very little going on, very little to engage with, it’s minimal (with a small ‘m’), as are most of the works here. Such is the pared-down flatness of this work that, were you to compare it directly with art that succeeds in resolving more complex issues in a lively and vivid manner, you could not help but objectively describe it as comparatively boring. That is, to me, a fairly non-subjective appraisal, as far as anything can be, based upon how much the artist has taken on. On the one hand you have something lively, complex and vivid; on the other, dull, flat and boring. Less is less.

        That said, I take no pleasure whatsoever from ‘unstructured gesture’; but, like you, a great deal from ‘clarity, precision and balance’. But I can find such qualities in complex and challenging work that has no reliance on basic geometry or crude simplicity; real simplicity, lucidity, such as you might find in something like a Beethoven sonata, say, is rather more problematic to achieve in art than I think these pieces suggest (see Gouk’s article about the optical problems of Mondrian’s paintings, for example).

        A measure of really great art would be (I think rather objectively) based upon the extent to which a whole host of complex incidents are woven into some kind of coherent visual matrix. The more complex the set of relationships resolved, the greater the ultimate form of the work, the greater the achievement. A bit pat, I know, but generally I think this holds good.

        And I think we really ought to compare abstract and figurative art – see the Oehlen posts…

    • John Holland said…

      The problem with looking for the ‘meaning’ of the work in the historical and biographical ideas surrounding the Cercle et Carre group is surely that this inevitably results in the actual work being reduced to the function of an illustration- like the slide-show accompanying a philosophy lecture.

      These concerns (the anti-Surrealism) may be part of the motives for making the work in the form it takes, but if you need to bare them in mind for the work to function now, there must be a problem. Imagine saying ‘yes, this might SOUND like a rather lacklustre piece of music, but you have to think about what the composer’s philosophical ideas were when he wrote it- they were really terribly interesting….’
      Also, if these are essentially issues of ‘highly personal predilections’ only, why would Cercle et Carre’s need to counter Surrealism be of any interest? They ‘made generalisations about a whole swathe of art’, because they saw it as more important than simple personal preference.

      Having said that, I have no idea about this particular show, not having seen it.

      • Alan Fowler said…

        In referring to Cercle et Carre I was not suggesting that the “meaning” of these works could be looked for in their historical or biographical context – though I could make an argument that this does apply to works such as those produced, for example, by the early Russian Constructivists. Instead, I was looking at C et C from the viewpoint of an art historian, rather than that of an art critic, and suggesting that the historical context explains why these works were produced – in other words, the reason for their production, rather than their meaning.
        As an historian, I find historic context can, among other things, throw light on art which I might (in Robin’s terms) find boring – and therefore widen one’s knowledge and understanding of how and why an artwork or art style is as it is. Just one example – Malevich’s Black Square. Out of context this could be considered about the most boring painting ever made. Yet in context it has been generally recognised as one of the most important and iconic art works of the 20th century.

  3. C. Morey de Morand said…

    The works are supreme masterpieces, this sublime exhibition quite rightly needs no words. the series of installation shots with a list of the artist names is a flawless tribute.
    Thank you.

    • Robin Greenwood said…

      Dear Colette,
      How I do so profoundly disagree with you. From the photos, this looks like some of the most boring art ever made.