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Gego’s Entanglement of Place and Space

Words:

Edd Norval
September 25, 2020

Gertrud Goldschmidt, best known as Gego, became a prominent figure in Venezuelan abstraction. Born in Stuttgart, she moved to Caracas at the beginning of World War II, when many people’s lives were uprooted. In a human landscape where direction was lost for many, she began to make her way through her new home by developing a unique artistic language built on material abstraction.

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In her ‘drawings without paper’, Gego constructed many installations that built on her background in architecture and engineering, which she attained a degree in from Stuttgart in 1938, before relocating the year after. In her new home o Venezuela, she was able to use her toolbox in an unexpected way. 


None of this happened overnight, though. Naturally, the impact of a total war took a global toll, stalling almost all developments for its duration. Neutrality in Venezuela meant things were far more peaceful and prosperous than in Europe, but the pervasive effects of a world at war were inescapable. It was in the 1950s that Gego began to explore the abstraction of geometric shapes, constructed through intricate steel wire models, drawing heavily on both her education and the aesthetic of Germany’s iconic Bauhaus.


Native artists paved the way for her success, with Alejandro Otero’s geometric sculptures and Carlos Cruz-Diez’s colourscapes drawing the attention of the art world to Venezuela. Both were viewed as important pioneers, a shadow that Gego was intent to escape from, blazing her own unique trail. Their influences are undeniable, yet she remained fiercely distinct from them.

Some of her most important works actually came from sculpture, where she created a series that challenged the notion of stasis in sculpture, creating works that appeared to move, functioning in relation to the movement of the viewer. This effect, known as parallax, imbues these pieces with a strong sense of kinetic energy, whilst still using the ‘line’ that had already become so iconic from her abstracted works. 


The line was never a way to construct the image. The line was the image. It was upon this idea that a lot of Gego’s creations were built. Her magnum opus was considered by many to be her Reticuláreas, an immersive production that would fill entire rooms of her exhibitions, firmly placing the audience as navigator to the works, granting them the freedom to examine the relationship between empty and occupied space. 


Arriving in Venezuela during a boom, when many artists were able to enjoy a great deal of success, Gego preferred not to hi-jack this momentum, but take the necessary time to add something to the conversation. Although there were many giants developing around her, the German engineer and architect would eventually become a force unto herself, a unique voice amongst many other unique voices. Gego’s legacy is as much intellectual as physical - the thought provoking works of art question how we perceive space and challenge the very nature of the objects and ideas we use to fill it.

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