October 01, 2011
Gego at Frederico Sève Gallery
By Frances Richard
The maverick modernist Gego was born Gertrud Goldschmidt in 1912, into a Jewish banking family in Hamburg. She trained as an architect, then fled in 1939 to Venezuela, where she taught and made art for the rest of her life. At the time of her death in 1994, Gego was respected as a sculptor in Latin America but uncelebrated elsewhere, despite a stint in the early ‘60s when she was represented by the Betty Parsons Gallery in New York and hobnobbed with Naum Gabo and Josef and Anni Albers. Important fine-art presses (including Tamarind Lithography Workshop in Los Angeles) produced her prints, and it has been through these prints, as well as her drawings, that New York audiences have had recent access to the artist’s mischievous and elegant sensibility. In 2007, the Drawing Center hosted “Gego, Between Transparency and the Invisible,” a survey organized by Mari Carmen Ramírez that originated at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. This second, much smaller show at Frederico Sève presented just thirteen pieces, dating from 1963 through 1991 and including intaglios, lithographs, silk screens, and ink drawings, plus a lithographic artist’s book. Somehow the small room with its handful of modestly sized works on paper seemed to expand toward limitless horizons.
Gego’s line is fine and agile, physical without being nervous. Directionality is decisive in her compositions, carrying both abstract geometric and emotive weight. Thus fields of strong black verticals pour down like rain against equally emphatic, angular horizontals in two untitled intaglios from 1963, creating moody yet still airy landscapes. In a 1966 litho, also untitled, a cluster of up-curving black bars float in white space, tenuously tethered to a slender, jutting line; the motif calls to mind a fingerprint, or an old-fashioned microphone, or the visual reverberation of unheard sound. An ink drawing of netlike lines stretches over two blocks of “color”—the untinted paper on the left; on the right, a silk-screened rectangle of pinkish beige (Untitled, 1970). The geodesic pattern on the white space is irregular, though tight, and overlaid with a looser web. That web takes on a new shape as it extends across the tinted rectangle—which occupies slightly less than half the paper—and continues beyond the area of color to the white margins of the sheet. A scintillatingly complex image composes from almost childishly simple means.
Gego toys with echoes of bodily presence, not only via the vigorous, questing quality of her line, in which the passage of her hand is palpable, but through the hints of iconicity that she insinuates just enough to let them register before dissolving back into abstraction. The landscape element is potent. Not-quite figurative moments occur, too. Another untitled intaglio from 1963 centers on a totemic, Klee-esque form; a drawing in red ink, likewise dated 1963, allows a buzzing series of horizontals to thicken at the center into another fingerprint, or an off-kilter rising sun, or an eye, or a blood spot. The infinite extension implied by the grid serves, in Gego’s art, not only as a mathematically rationalistic proposition but as a tensile scaffold for visionary speculation. I SMILE—THEY GLIDE/I LAUGH—THEY BOUNCE/LEAP COMES WITH NONSENSE reads an inscription in the artist’s book Lineas, 1966. The title means lines in Spanish—although the phrases are written in English—and Gego’s animated lines seem to be the objects of the preposition they. The artist and her lines are at play together.
Gego, Untitled, 1970, ink and silk screen on paper, 13 x 19”.