Sculpture by Naum Gabo, installed at St Thomas’ Hospital garden, London, in 1975. Manufactured in 1972-3 by Stainless Metalcraft Ltd of London. The piece is owned by Tate, loaned to Guy's and St Thomas' Charity, and the site is owned by Guy's and St Thomas' NHS Foundation Trust.
Reasons for Designation
'Revolving Torsion' by Naum Gabo, of 1975, is listed at Grade II* for the following principal reasons:
* Artistic interest: a sculpture of high artistic and aesthetic quality, commissioned by Tate, holder of the National Collection, from an internationally important C20 artist;
* Historic interest: the piece is a manifestation of the principles set out in Gabo’s 'Realistic Manifesto', and is the culmination of an idea he had been developing over almost 50 years;
* Rarity: this is one of very few pieces of Gabo’s work to be on display in a public space (outside museums and galleries).
The period after 1945 saw a shift from commemorative sculpture and architectural enrichment to the idea of public sculpture as a primarily aesthetic contribution to the public realm. Sculpture was commissioned for new housing, schools, universities and civic set pieces, with the counties of Hertfordshire, London and Leicestershire leading the way in public patronage. Thus public sculpture could be an emblem of civic renewal and social progress. By the late C20 however, patronage was more diverse and included corporate commissions and Arts Council-funded community art. The ideology of enhancing the public realm through art continued, but with divergent means and motivation.
Visual languages ranged from the abstraction of Victor Pasmore and Phillip King to the figurative approach of Elisabeth Frink and Peter Laszlo Peri, via those such as Lynn Chadwick and Barbara Hepworth who bridged the abstract/representational divide. The post-war decades are characterised by the exploitation of new – often industrial – materials and techniques including new welding and casting techniques, plastics and concrete, while kinetic sculpture and ‘ready mades’ (using found objects) demonstrate an interest in composite forms.
'Revolving Torsion' is one of very few public pieces by the Russian-born Constructivist sculptor, painter, printmaker, and designer, Naum Gabo. Gabo, born Naum Neemia Pevsner (1890-1977), adopted another family name (that of Gabo) in 1915 to avoid confusion with his older brother, the sculptor Antoine Pevsner. Gabo never trained as an artist, studying instead medicine before changing to natural sciences and then engineering. Revolving Torsion was erected in the garden of St Thomas’ Hospital in 1975, and was described by Gabo as "the realization of a dream I have been carrying with me ever since 1929 and before."
Gabo was introduced to avant-garde art through his older brother, and in 1920 they published their 'Realistic Manifesto'. This repudiated the use of colour and mass, and the ‘static rhythms’ of traditional art. Gabo used metal, and later clear plastics and nylon filament, in his work to express volume through line and plane. The manifesto also introduced the concept of kinetic art – which was to be a fundamental element of Gabo’s future work. 'Kinetic Construction (Standing Wave)', 1920, was Gabo’s first kinetic work; breaking new ground in taking on its form only when in motion, thus introducing the idea of time as an element of art, a fourth dimension. Gabo left Russia in 1922, living in Berlin, Paris, London and Cornwall, before settling in the USA in 1946. During his decade in England Gabo’s circle included Barbara Hepworth, Ben Nicholson and Peter Lanyon, he and Nicholson together editing 'Circle: International Survey of Constructivist Art'. Gabo often worked on themes over a long period – Revolving Torsion being an example. It was an idea which he developed from the mid 1920s, with a number of models and maquettes being made: 'Torsion', 1929, a perspex 35cm high model is one of these. It is held by Tate which holds one of the biggest collections of his work in the world.
The commission for Revolving Torsion came about in 1968 when the then director of the Tate Gallery, Sir Norman Reid, visited Gabo’s studio and the possibility of a large-scale version of the work was discussed. Reid secured sponsorship for the work from Alistair McAlpine (later Lord McAlpine of West Green), art collector and director of the construction firm Sir Robert McAlpine & Sons. A suitable site was found in the garden of the new buildings at St Thomas’ Hospital, then under construction. The hospital buildings are the work of the architectural practice Yorke, Rosenberg and Mardall, Eugene Rosenberg having been an ardent exponent of the integration of art and architecture.
The fountain stands at the centre of the hospital’s tranquil square garden, partly framed by the hospital buildings. To the north is Westminster Bridge Road, and to the west at a lower level are the riverside walk and the Thames. Its prominent and well-used setting accords with Gabo’s commitment to the belief expressed in his Realistic Manifesto that art should attend us everywhere that life takes place.
Revolving Torsion operates as a fountain and stands at the centre of a large pool. It was designed to rotate, making one complete rotation every ten minutes. Some time ago however the hydraulics seized, and despite concerted effort to make it turn again, this has so far not been possible.
'Revolving Torsion' stands at the centre of a large circular pool now with a low tubular steel rail* running around the outside (a later addition). The central work is fabricated from a stainless steel plate and takes the form of an abstract composition of multiple curved, rib-like, plates, which appear to rise in a twisting motion from a shallow stainless steel basin. The plates are joined together along straight seams to create an open three-dimensional form. Jets of water flow from the curved edges of the plates, their streams crossing as the jets follow the profile of the curve. Gabo intended that the jets of water should be seen as part of the sculpture’s volume, and the use of stainless steel reflects his theory of non-colour, describing it as having “the same tone of water to a certain extent, but its shadows you can see, and you ought to see in the water."
The circular pool in which the piece stands is integral to its functioning as a fountain and is part of Gabo's original scheme, but its fabric does not have the same very high level of special interest as the central sculpture itself.
* Pursuant to s.1 (5A) of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 (‘the Act’) it is declared that the tubular steel rail around the circular pool is not of special architectural or historic interest.