Women Artists

Gego: An Architect of the Line

Aniela Rybak-Vaganay 23 May 2024 min Read

I encountered Gego (or rather her art) for the first time at the Guggenheim Museum in New York City last spring. It was a Sunday afternoon, and I was on my way to Central Park when I decided to visit the exhibition that had just opened at the museum, titled “Measuring Infinity.” Little did I know, it turned out to be the best exhibition I had ever seen at the Guggenheim.

Gego (Gertrude Goldschmidt) was born in Hamburg, Germany, in 1912. Her pseudonym is a fusion of the first two letters of her last and first names, inspired by her older sister Hanna, who called herself Hego.

With a background in engineering and architecture, Gego graduated from the Technische Hohschule in Stuttgart. Her education equipped her with a strong foundation of technical drawing, geometry, and meticulous attention to detail all of which are evident in her carefully planned artworks. Some artists used color as their main tool of expression (such as Suzanne Valadon, Hilma af Klint, or Joan Mitchell), while others were focused on creating a detailed drawing in preparation for the painting (for example Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun or Leonora Carrington). Gego’s art was centered on the line.

The Line as a Means of Creation

Gego: Gego, Tronco no 5 (Trunk No. 5), 1976, private collection. © Fundación Gego. Photograph by Thomas R. DuBrock, courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.

Gego, Tronco no 5 (Trunk No. 5), 1976, private collection. © Fundación Gego. Photograph by Thomas R. DuBrock, courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.

I discovered the charm of the line in and of itself – the line in space as well as the line drawn on a surface, and the void of nothing between the lines. I also discovered the sparkling as they cross, when they are interrupted, when they are of different colors or different types. I discovered that sometimes the in-between lines are as important as the line by itself.

Gego

Maria Elena Huizi and Josefina Manrique, eds., Sabiduras and Other Texts by Gego (Houston 2005), p. 171.

The focus on the line is the most consistent component of Gego’s oeuvre. We can observe it in her installations, drawings, and collages. The artist skillfully utilized it all to create expressive, but at the same time diligently planned, installations. Gego became the master of the line.

Gego: Gego, Untitled, 1966, Museum of Modern Art, New York City, NY, USA. Museum’s website.

Gego, Untitled, 1966, Museum of Modern Art, New York City, NY, USA. Museum’s website.

Early Years as an Artist

The Goldschmidt family was Jewish and faced the necessity of fleeing Germany in 1938 due to escalating anti-semitic sentiments. While her parents relocated to the UK, Gego, with only a transit visa to Great Britain, sought assistance elsewhere. Through a connection with her cousin’s friend, the young architect secured an entry visa to Venezuela, marking the beginning of her new life in 1939. Initially, she spent the first decade working in various architectural firms.

However, the early 1950s marked a pivotal moment for Gego as she decided to leave her architectural career behind and embark on a path as an artist. She initially focused on works on paper, including drawings and watercolors, before gradually incorporating sculpture into her practice. Notably, the paper held significant importance for Gego throughout her artistic journey. Her installations could be likened to drawings in space, characterized by thick black lines arranged in geometric patterns against a white backdrop, resembling drawings on paper, particularly in reproductions. While Gego was recognized for her sculptural works, she preferred to describe them as installations rather than traditional sculptures.

Gego: Gego, Sphere, 1959, Museum of Modern Art, New York City, NY, USA. Photograph by Sharon Mollerus via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 2.0). 

Gego, Sphere, 1959, Museum of Modern Art, New York City, NY, USA. Photograph by Sharon Mollerus via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 2.0). 

Thriving Artist

Gego presented her works on paper for the first time in 1954. Ever since then, she started thriving artistically and eventually became an acclaimed artist. Her installations brought the attention of the museum collection as early as 1960 when the Museum of Modern Art in New York purchased one of her works. She often participated in group shows both in Venezuela and the United States. What is more, she had numerous solo shows. For instance, in 1971 she had an opportunity to exhibit at Betty Parsons Gallery in New York, an important gallery on the artistic map of the city. It was a place where many soon-to-be-famous contemporary artists of the time were showcasing their art, for example, Jackson Pollock, Robert Rauschenberg or Mark Rothko.

Gego: Gego, Drawing without Paper 79/2, 1979 MACBA Collection. MACBA Consortium, Long-term loan of Fundación Gego © Fundación Gego. Photograph by Tony Coll, Courtesy MACBA Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona.

Gego, Drawing without Paper 79/2, 1979 MACBA Collection. MACBA Consortium, Long-term loan of Fundación Gego © Fundación Gego. Photograph by Tony Coll, Courtesy MACBA Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona.

Gego: Installation view, Gego: Measuring Infinity, 2023, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York City, NY, USA. Photograph by David Heald © Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, New York.

Installation view, Gego: Measuring Infinity, 2023, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York City, NY, USA. Photograph by David Heald © Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, New York.

Well–Deserved Acclaim

Gego passed away in 1994 in Caracas, a city where she spent most of her life. Even though she only started working as an artist in her forties, she managed to have a prolific career. However, it was not only in 2023 that she was given a retrospective in a major world-renowned museum. “Measuring Infinity” was showcased in the main exhibition space of the Guggenheim, which ironically can be very challenging for presenting art. Frank Loyd Wright designed the Guggenheim building, which in itself is a work of art. The spiral staircase is one of the most iconic sights of New York City, but unfortunately, it does not provide a lot of space for the artwork.

However, Gego’s installations perfectly fit in the rounded walls of the museum. They looked as if they were created especially to be presented there one day. This made me think of the universality of her practice. She used accessible materials to make art that can be understood in many different cultures.

Gego: Gego installing Reticulárea, 1969, Museo de Bellas Artes, Caracas, Venezuela. Photograph by Juan Santana © Fundación Gego.

Gego installing Reticulárea, 1969, Museo de Bellas Artes, Caracas, Venezuela. Photograph by Juan Santana © Fundación Gego.

Bibliography

1.

Amor, Monica. Gego: Weaving the Space in Between. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2023.

2.

Gego, Monica Amor, Museu d’Art Contemporani, and Museu Serralves. Gego: Defying Structures. Barcelona: Museum d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona, 2006.

3.

Gego, Eva-Marina Froitzheim, Ingo Maerker, Michelle Miles, Allison Moseley, Hamburger Kunsthalle, Kunstmuseum Stuttgart, and Henry Moore Institute. Gego: Line as Object. Ostfildern: Hatje Cantz, 2013.

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