Gego, Between Transparency and the Invisible
The Drawing Center April 21 – July 21, 2007
Venezuelan artist Gego once wrote that she sought “transparency of volume” in her work, “so that a form could be appreciated fully from all angles.” This conceptual framework is the point of departure for Gego, Between Transparency and the Invisible, an exhibition of sculptures, drawings, and prints that highlights the perceptual and tactile dimensions brought by the viewer to the work.
Born Gertrud Goldschmidt in  to a Jewish family in Hamburg, Germany, Gego studied architecture and engineering at the Technical College of Stuttgart, where she also exhibited landscape and still life paintings. In 1939, she emigrated to Caracas, Venezuela, and worked in architecture, urban planning, and furniture design, while still pursuing fine art. A watercolor landscape from 1946 seems to foreshadow her eventual transition away from architecture, in which a blood-orange roof of a small house almost lifts into the air to become an abstract square. Drawing and painting became Gego’s primary focus in 1953, moving toward abstraction with layers of deep, Rothko-like reds and dark, vibrant blues.
Gego’s background in architecture and engineering informed her approach to line: what it can do; where it can go; how it falls, bends, and stands in space. Uno y dos de la serie de nueve (One and Two from the Series of Nine)(1969) is composed of steel wire bent in half and linked to create a sculptural base. As these silver lines veer slightly to the right or the left, they create a subtle crisscross pattern of convergence. Gego’s decision to cut the wire bluntly at different lengths accentuates its stiff but spontaneous pattern, which in turn draws attention to the way Uno dos… opens into and becomes part of the space above it.
While her sculpture exploits the properties of metal in space, her Drawings without Paper are windows into the ways that line can shape space into form. This delicately dynamic series—the highlight of the exhibition—consists of square “pieces of paper” composed of wire hanging from the ceiling. Compelling designs in and of themselves, they also cast intricate shadows onto the walls behind them, creating yet another set of drawings suspended in the ephemeral, that are almost calligraphic in their expressivity. With each drawing she managed to find the place where sturdiness melts into malleability, where the order of industry twists into unpredictably biomorphic form. Take Dibujo sin papel 85/5 (Drawing without Paper 85/5) (1985), made of steel and iron with aluminum rods and cables: the top of the piece forms a three-dimensional square, but its bottom is a messy tangle of spindly wire, like a metal box tossed into a tree where its skeletal remains are beginning to take root.
Gego plays with and against expectations. In Nueve reticulas cuadradas No. 45 (Nine Square Grids No. 45) (1975), an ink drawing on cream paper, the grid is slightly askew and any corrective attempt by the eye of the viewer ends up focusing attention on its wobbly, uneven lines and frayed edges. And Dibujo sin papel 78/11 (Drawing Without Paper 78/11) (1978), a square of iron mesh with a red enamel iron rod around its perimeter, creates a sense of movement simply by leaving a gap in the red rod at the lower left-hand corner—a perceptual sensation formed by the simplest of compositional decisions.
Gego’s generative imagination circled back to various forms and motifs in the same way that one might reflect on—and thereby alter—dreams or early memories. Occasionally, however, Gego struck up a conversation with modernism and its legacies. Dibujo sin papel 83/18 (Drawing without Paper 83/18) (1983) is a square of saw blades roughly painted in bright yellow. A seemingly haphazard triangle of smaller blades, painted turquoise, is bolted in the center, its apex rising above the top of the square as if arrested at the moment it began to transcend its confines. This drawing’s attention to geometry and process suspends it exquisitely between the disciplined order of a Mondrian and the expressive messiness of a Rauschenberg.
Gego’s body of work does not readily lend itself to metaphor. It is not a forum for autobiographical reflection or historical commentary. Still, one cannot help but think that Gego’s attention to the transparency of form connects somehow to the diasporic movement that shaped her early life, the upheaval of fleeing Nazi persecution and emigration to another continent, culture, and language. Through the windows she created, Gego seemed to be shaping the way toward somewhere else.