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Camille Graeser Ohne Titel (Kolor-Sinfonik), around 1950
Photograph: Eva-Christina Meier, 2004, Verwaltungsgebäude

What is “Concrete Art?”

There are several major works of Concrete Art in the Ricola Collection. The Zurich Concretists Max Bill (1908–1994), Camille Graeser (1892–1980), Verena Loewensberg (1912–1986), and Richard Paul Lohse (1902–1988) were all important benchmarks for Alfred Richterich, the man who first conceived the collection in the late 1970s. His decision to focus the collection of art from Switzerland on artists who were working on a contemporary concept of the “work”—and that against the backdrop of a modernist understanding of art history—has influenced the collection’s development to this day.

But what exactly is Concrete Art? As the glance at art history in what follows will show, the term is not just a description of certain stylistic characteristics, but in fact defines the epoch that came after abstraction in the early twentieth century. Concrete Art expresses the shift in the perception of what an artist’s task actually is, and of what art can and should achieve, that began to manifest itself from 1930 onwards. The Concretists did not define a style that might be learned with the aim of applying it themselves as artists. After all, the language of art is developing all the time.

The first mention of “concrete” art dates from 1930 and the manifesto The Basis of Concrete Art by Theo van Doesburg (1883–1931). In a commentary on his manifesto, which like the latter was published in French in van Doesburg’s magazine Art Concret, he characterized abstraction as a historical epoch that was now finished. Nothing, he wrote there, was “more concrete, more real than a line, a color, an area.” [...]

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