18 (30).01.1884, Klimovichi, Mogilev Province – 12.04.1962, Paris
Sculptor, painter and theoretician
The son of an engineer and the elder brother of Naum Gabo, Pevsner studied painting at the Kiev Art School from 1902 to 1909. He entered the St Petersburg Academy of Art in 1909, but was expelled three months later as a Jew. He became interested in ancient Russian art and the modernists in the Moscow collections of Shchukin and Morozov. For much of the period 1911 to 1914, he lived in Paris, where he got to know Archipenko and Modigliani, and painted Cubist and then abstract pictures. During the war in Christiania (Oslo), he produced his first sculptures. Both brothers returned to Russia in March 1917. After the Revolution he took an active part in setting up new artistic institutions. He showed his works for the first time at the first exhibition of pictures by the Trade Union of Artists and Painters in Moscow in 1918. In connection with the one-day exhibition ‘Gabo, Pevsner, Klutsis and the Pupils of Pevsner’, which was held on the bandstand on Tverskoy Boulevard, he published, with his brother, the Realistic Manifesto. He took part in the first exhibition of Russian art in the Van Diemen Gallery in Berlin.
In Berlin in May 1923, he got to know Marcel Duchamp and three years later he executed his portrait using transparent plastic and metal. He travelled to Paris also in 1923, and the following year, the exhibition ‘Russian Constructivists. Gabo and Pevsner’ took place in the Galerie Percier. In the following year a joint exhibition of Pevsner, Gabo and Theo Van Doesburg was held at New York’s Little Revue gallery. He took part in the Salon des Indépendants and Salon d’Automne in 1925 and 1926. The figure of the Goddess created in 1927 for a production of Sauguet’s ballet La Chatte by Diaghilev’s company was one of his last figurative works. Over the period 1926–37 he took part in the Société Anonyme exhibitions. He was granted French citizenship in 1930. He was a founder-member of the Constructivist association Abstraction-Création in 1931 (in 1946 it became the Salon des Réalités Nouvelles). He was its Vice-President (1953), and from 1956 its Honorary President.
Construction for an Airport (1934) marked a new stage in his art, in which curving works formed from rods, cables and metal wire predominated. His most famous designs include Dynamic Projection at Thirty Degrees (1950–51) for the University of Caracas, the competition design for the memorial The Unknown Political Prisoner (1952, Tate Gallery), and Bird in Flight in front of the General Motors technical centre in Detroit (1955).
His first solo exhibition took place in 1947 at the Galerie René Drouin in Paris. He staged a joint exhibition with Gabo in the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1948, and in 1952 he took part in the exhibition ‘Chefs-d’oeuvre du XXe siècle’ at the Musée National d’Art Moderne in Paris; his solo exhibition opened there in 1957. He participated in Documenta 1 (1955) and Documenta 2 (1959) in Kassel, and represented France at the Venice Biennale (1958). He was a Chevalier of the Légion d’honneur (1961). F.B.