Non-Objective Art
Definition, History: Geometric Abstract Painting/Sculpture.

Pin it

Non-Objective Art


Definition of Non-Objective Art
History of Non-Objective Art

Art Work Examples

Where (1960)
Magna on canvas
Hirshhorn Museum & Sculpture Garden
By Moris Louis, a member of the 1960s
Post-Painterly Abstraction style.

Drought (1962, Tate Modern, London)
By Kenneth Noland. One of the great
abstract painters.

Black Abstraction (1927)
Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC.
By Georgia O'Keeffe.
A perfect example of organic,
or biomorphic abstraction.


ee: Art Definition, Meaning.


The term "Non-Objective Art" (also known as concrete art) describes any type of abstract art (including abstract sculpture) which is wholly devoid of any reference to the natural world. This category of non-representational painting and sculpture typically uses geometrical imagery, which is one of the few sources of non-naturalistic motifs. Hence it is also referred to as geometric abstraction. The term non-objective art was first used by the Russian Constructivist artist Alexander Rodchenko (1891-1956) in the titles of some of his pictures (eg. Non-Objective Painting: Black on Black 1918, MoMA, New York). It was then taken up by others, such as his compatriot Kasimir Malevich (1878-1935) - the inventor of Suprematism - who wrote (in 1919) "In referring to non-objectivity, I wish to make it clear that Suprematism is not concerned with things, objects, etc."

For a guide, see: Art Types.

Read our article for students and
teachers on appreciation, see:
Art Evaluation: How to Appreciate Art.

For painting and drawing,
see: Fine Art.
For sculpture and assemblage,
see: Plastic Art.
For ornamental designwork,
see: Decorative Art.
For crafts and design,
see: Applied Art.
For a general category,
see: Visual Art.
For concepts of beauty,
see: Aesthetics.

For experimental painting/sculpture
see: Avant-Garde Art.
For artworks made from salvaged
material, see: Junk Art.
For primitive artworks,
see: Outsider Art.
For naif works (Jean Dubuffet)
see: Art Brut.

Malevich later wrote a book called The Non-Objective World, which was published in 1927 by the Bauhaus. Note that non-objective art (and concrete art) are not synonymous with abstract art, as although the latter may be wholly non-representational, the images used may derive from natural sources. For example, while abstract sculptors like Jean Arp (1887-1966), Joan Miro (1893-1983) and Barbara Hepworth (1903-1975) all specialized in abstract works, they tended to employ rounded abstract forms based on those found in nature. This form of biomorphic/organic abstraction is different from non-objective art.


The earliest pioneers of non-objective art were Kandinsky (1866-1944), Piet Mondrian (1872-1944) and Theo van Doesburg (1883-1931), Mikhail Larionov (1881-1964) and Natalya Goncharova (1881-1962), Kasimir Malevich and Alexander Rodchenko. Major abstract art movements which embraced geometric abstraction included, in chronological order: Cubism (1908-14), Futurism (1909-14), Orphism (c.1910-13), Rayonism (1912-14), Vorticism (1913-14), Suprematism, (c.1913-18), De Stijl (1917-31), Constructivism (c.1919-1932), Bauhaus (1919-33), Mondrian's Neo-Plasticism and Doesburg's Elementarism. Thereafter, non-objective art was promoted by the Abstraction-Creation Group (c.1931-36), Hard Edge Painting (Late 1950s, Early 1960s), Op-Art (fl.1960s), and Post Painterly Abstraction.


Non-objective painting typically uses geometric motifs on a shallow picture plane. As a general rule no use is made of linear perspective to create the illusion of pictorial depth, neither is impasto emplyed to create textural effects. Also, the picture is purposely devoid of any references to worldly things, either material or emotional. Non-objective art is abstraction in its purest form.


By avoiding all references to naturalism, non-objective art cannot age. Nor will its significance be downgraded as a result of negative associations in the mind of the spectator. Instead, the picture will be judged on its own merit. Moreover, according to Platonic philosophy, beauty lies in the ideal - the ideal form of a thing, rather than its worldly actuality. Thus non-objective art possesses an aesthetic quality unattainable by regular representational painting. Some artists (eg. Kandinsky) have gone so far as to endow concrete art with the same sort of 'spirituality' and 'purity' as music.

Two important collectors of non-objective art include Solomon R Guggenheim (1861-1949), and Peggy Guggenheim (1898-1979).

Famous Non-Objective Artists

Well known geometric abstractionists include:

• Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944)
Pioneer of geometric abstraction.
• Georges Vantongerloo (1866-1965)
Belgian member of De Stijl.
Frank Kupka (1871-1957)
Czech colourist.
• Piet Mondrian (1872-1944)
Inventor of Neo-Plasticism.
Constantin Brancusi (1876-1957)
Romanian abstract sculptor, active in Paris.
• Bart Van Der Leck (1876-1958)
One of founders of De Stijl.
• Kasimir Malevich (1878-1935)
Inventor of Suprematism.
Paul Klee (1879-1940)
Swiss fantasy painter.
• Mikhail Larionov (1881-1964)
Russian founder of Rayonism.
• Natalya Goncharova (1881-1962)
Co-inventor of Rayonism.
Fernand Leger (1881-1955)
French Cubist, abstractionist.
Umberto Boccioni (1882-1916)
Italian Futurist sculptor.
• Auguste Herbin (1882-1960)
French abstract painter.
• Theo van Doesburg (1883-1931)
Leader of Dutch De Stijl group.
Robert Delaunay (1885-1941)
French inventor of Orphism.
• Sonia Delaunay-Turk (1885-1979)
Famous for her colourful abstraction.
• Jean Arp (1887-1966)
German-born master of organic abstraction.
• Johannes Itten (1888-1967)
Swiss geometric-style painter.
Josef Albers (1888-1976)
Ex-Bauhaus teacher noted for his non-objective paintings.
Lyubov Popova (1889-1924)
Constructivist, famous for her Painterly Architectonics.
El Lissitzky (1890-1941)
Russian Constructivist painter/designer.
• David Bomberg (1890-1957)
British Vorticist painter.
• Naum Gabo (1890-1977)
Leading exponent of Constructivism sculpture.
• Alexander Rodchenko (1891-1956)
Leading figure in Constructivism movement.
Jacques Lipchitz (1891-1973)
Leading Cubist sculptor.
Ben Nicholson (1894-1982)
Abstract sculptor and painter, noted for his "white reliefs".
Laszlo Moholy-Nagy (1895-1946)
Hungarian Constructivist, designer, Bauhaus instructor.
Alexander Calder (1898-1976)
Leading exponent of kinetic art; inventor of mobiles.
• Konstantin Medunetsky (1899-1935)
Russian artist, known for his Colour Constructions.
• Barbara Hepworth (1903-1975)
One of the greatest abstract sculptors in Britain.
• Jean Helion (1904-87)
French painter who signed Doesburg's Manifesto of Concrete Art.
• Jiro Yoshihara (1905-72)
Japanese industrialist & self-taught painter.
David Smith (1906-1965)
Original American sculptor, noted for his "3-D metal calligraphy" junk art.
Victor Vasarely (1906-1997)
Hungarian pioneer of Op-Art.
• Max Bill (1908-94)
Swiss exponent of non-objective art.
Tony Smith (1912-81)
American abstract sculptor.
Agnes Martin (1912-2004)
Minimalist painter.
Ad Reinhardt (1913-67)
American painter known for his geometric abstraction.
Ellsworth Kelly (b.1923)
An exponent of Post Painterly Abstraction.
• Ivan Picelj (b.1924)
Croatian abstract artist.
Kenneth Noland (b.1924)
Minimalist painter concerned with colour & structure.
• Sir Anthony Caro (1924-2013)
Influential post-war British abstract sculptor.
Jean Tinguely (1928-91)
Swiss sculptor, kinetic artist.
Donald Judd (1928-94)
Iconic American minimalist sculptor.
Sol LeWitt (1928-2007)
Minimalist sculptor famous for his geometric structures.
• Robert Ryman (b.1930)
American minimalist painter.
• Peter Sedgley (b.1930)
British Op-artist.
• Richard Anuszkiewicz (b.1930)
American Op-artist.
Bridget Riley (b.1931)
Leader of Op-Art in Britain.
Carl Andre (b.1935)
Minimalist sculptor.
Frank Stella (b.1936)
Famous for his Minimalism, Hard Edge Painting and Shaped Canvas style.
Richard Serra (b.1939)
American postmodernist, famous for his monumental Cor-Ten steel sculptures.
Sean Scully (b.1945)
Irish-American geometric-style painter.
[ Note: For other Irish abstract painters, see: Abstract Artists in Ireland.]

Famous Paintings

Abstract paintings can be seen in many of the best art museums around the world. Here is a small selection of such works, listed in chronological order of artist.

• Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944)
Composition VIII (1923, Guggenheim Museum, New York)
Composition IX (1936, Centre Georges Pompidou)

• Frank Kupka (1871-1957)
The Disks of Newton: Study for a Fugue in Two Colours (1912, Musee National d'Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou)

• Piet Mondrian (1872-1944)
Composition (1917, Kroller-Muller Museum, Otterlo)
Composition with Yellow, Blue, Red (1942, Tate Collection, London)

• Kasimir Malevich (1878-1935)
Suprematism (1915, Stedelijk Museum)
Suprematist Composition: White on White (1918, MoMA, New York)

• Paul Klee (1879-1940)
Fire in the Evening (1929, MoMA, NYC)

• Mikhail Larionov (1881-1964)
Red Rayonism (1913, The Merzinger collection, Switzerland)

• Natalya Goncharova (1881-1962)
Rayonist Forest (1914) E Rubin Collection

• Theo Van Doesburg (1883-1931)
Composition VII (The Three Graces) (1917, Private Collection)
Arithmetic Composition (1930, Private Collection)

• Robert Delaunay (1885-1941)
Rythme 1 (1940, Musee National d'Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou)

• Sonia Delaunay-Turk (1885-1979)
Prismes Electriques (1914, Musee National d'Art Moderne)

• Josef Albers (1888-1976)
Fugue (1925, Kunstmuseum, Basel)
Transformation of a Scheme (1952, Yale University Art Gallery)
Homage to the Square (1964, Tate Collection, London)
Confirming (Study for Homage to the Square) (1971, Private Collection)

• Ljubov Popova (1889-1924)
Space-Force Construction (1920-1, Private Collection)

• Alexander Rodchenko (1891-1956)
Composition (1918, MoMA, NY)
Composition (Overcoming Red) (1918, Annely Juda Fine Art, London

• El Lissitzky (1890-1941)
Proun 19D (1922, MoMA, New York)

• Laszlo Moholy-Nagy (1895-1946)
Black Quarter Circle With Red Stripes (1921, Private Collection)

• Jean Helion (1904-87)
Balance (1933, Hamburger Kunsthalle)

• Victor Vasarely (1908-97)
Capella 4B (1965, Museum of Modern Art, New York)
Pal-Ket (1973-4, Museum of Fine Arts, Bilbao)

• Agnes Martin (1912-2004)
Tremolo (1962, Museum of Modern Art, New York)

• Ellsworth Kelly (b.1923)
Four Panels (1964, Gemini Gallery, Los Angeles)

• Kenneth Noland (b.1924)
Gift (1962, Tate Collection, London)

• Robert Ryman (b.1930)
Courier II (1985, Private Collection)

• Bridget Riley (b.1931)
Fission (1963, MoMA, New York)

• Frank Stella (b.1936)
Black Adder (1965, Leo Castelli Gallery, New York)

• For more about the meaning of art terms, see: Homepage.

© All rights reserved.