Dates: 1930-1960

Origin: Europe, United States

Key Artists: Josef Albers, Richard Paul Lohse

A term applied to abstract art that is intended to be totally autonomous, repudiating all figurative references and symbolic associations. The name was coined by Theo van Doesburg, who in Paris in 1930 issued a manifesto called Art concret (it took the form of the first number of a periodical with this title, but no other numbers were issued). In this he declared: ‘The work of art … should receive nothing from nature’s formal properties or from sensuality or sentimentality … A pictorial element has no other significance than “itself” and therefore the picture has no other significance than “itself”. The construction of the picture, as well as its elements, should be simple and controllable visually. Technique should be mechanical, that is to say exact, anti-impressionistic.’ Van Doesburg died the following year, but his ideas were developed by the Abstraction-Création group. One of its members, Max Bill, was a major force in helping Concrete art survive beyond the Second World War (he lived in neutral Switzerland). After the war, several new associations of Concrete art were formed, notably in Italy and in South America (which Bill visited in the 1950s), and it was later influential on minimal art and Op art. Bill, who organized international exhibitions of Concrete art in Basle in 1944 and in Zurich in 1960, gave the following definition: ‘Concrete painting eliminates all naturalistic representation; it avails itself exclusively of the fundamental elements of painting, the colour and form of the surface. Its essence is, then, the complete emancipation of every natural model: pure creation.’ Although Concrete art is typically austerely geometrical, it is not necessarily so; Bill’s sculpture, for example, often uses graceful spiral or helix shapes.

Chilvers, Ian. “Concrete art.” The Oxford Companion to Western Art. Ed. Hugh Brigstocke. Oxford Art Online. 12 Mar. 2010 <;

Josef Albers


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