The first gallery exhibition ever organized in collaboration with Fundación Gego and the family of the artist, Autobiography of a Line reunites all eighteen of Gego’s celebrated Chorros for the first time in New York City since their debut at Betty Parsons Gallery in 1971. This group of towering wire sculptures, created between 1970-71, embodies the palpable sense of entropic geometry and spatial play for which Gego’s oeuvre is internationally admired. Also on view will be late sculptures from the artist’s series of Dibujos sin papel (Drawings without Paper); small-scale Bichitos (Creatures); and works on paper that complicate and question the relationship between drawing and sculpture such as the Tejeduras (Weavings) and other series created during Gego’s long career.
Autobiography of a Line will remain on view though October 24th and will be followed in Spring 2016 by a second exhibition devoted to Gego at the gallery’s London space at 22 Old Bond Street in Mayfair. In conjunction with these exhibitions, Dominique Lévy will publish two fully illustrated catalogues examining Gego’s work in a contemporary global context. The first volume will feature texts by curator Chus Martínez, head of the Institute of Art of the FHNW Academy of Arts and Design in Basel, Switzerland and art historian and critic Kaira Cabañas, and previously unpublished archival material. The book will also include “GEGO,” an original poem by writer, visual artist, and composer Anne Tardos, exploring the artist’s poetics of the line and performing a linguistic intervention in her work.
Born in Hamburg, Germany, Gego immigrated to Venezuela in 1939 after finishing her training as an architect at the University at Stuttgart; she was the last of her Jewish family to flee Nazi Germany. Before devoting herself fulltime to her artistic practice in 1953, Gego spent several years working as a teacher, designer, and architect. During this period she taught herself an improvised and intuitive Venezuelan Spanish and became acquainted with Latin American Concretism and cinetismo (Kinetic Art), which, with its utopian aims, was the predominan movement in Venezuela during her life. Although Gego was influenced by such artists as Alejandro Otero (1921 – 1990) and Jesús Rafael Soto (1923 – 2005), her work stands apart from both Concretism and cinetismo. Physically displaced from her homeland, Gego’s fragmentary wire sculptures reflect this state of apartness, using the vocabulary of formal abstraction to mobilize the gaps between lines, languages, and modes of perception. Throughout a career spanning four decades, Gego continuously rejected the categorization of her work as part of a particular movement or as comprised of a definitive medium, writing in her notebook, “Sculpture: three dimensional forms of solid material. NEVER what I do!” Like other Jewish-German émigré artists such as Mira Schendel in São Paulo and Eva Hesse in New York, Gego refused to participate in pre-established local artistic discourses. Instead, she dedicated herself to an intensive investigation of both the drawn and sculptural line, frequently defying conventions of linear geometry to introduce a quiet but profound sense of formlessness into her work.
In the beginning of her career, Gego worked mainly in watercolor, drawing, printmaking, and handmade books. Among her early books is a slim volume titled Autobiografía de una Línea (Autobiography of a Line), which contains a collection of the artist’s minimal etchings from 1965. The marks in this tome, from which the exhibition at Dominique Lévy takes its name, seem to either converge or branch away from each other depending on the book’s uncertain orientation. In this way, Autobiografía de una Línea is a precursor to the concerns that Gego would continue to deal with in her later work.
Among works on view in Autobiography of a Line will be the Acuarelas (watercolors) related to the artist’s celebrated Reticulárea series, which she undertook from 1969 to 1982. The sculptural Reticulárea are remarkable for their ever expanding and collapsing net-like structures that encompass the entirety of their installation space. The related Acuarelas were the first works on paper Gego created in the early 1980s after briefly abandoning this medium, and enact an exploration of the negative space between the Reticulárea’s interlinking wires. Gego considered the act of line drawing—both on a surface and in space—to be “un trabajo meditativo” (a meditative work), and noted that in these works, “sometimes the in-between-lines are as important as the line by itself.” The concept of “in-between-lines” can be read doubly as an assessment of the negative space between physical lines and as a meditation on the different technical modes of connection at work in her sculpture and drawing. In her Reticulárea, Gego frequently coiled the tips of wires and hooked them together, creating a planar system in which all points are interconnected. In this way, the Reticulárea are closely related to Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari’s concept of the rhizome, an organizational structure which has “no beginning or end; it is always in the middle, between things, interbeing.” Notably, Gego owned a German translation of Deleuze and Guattari’s first published text on the rhizome, which appeared in Mille plateaux (1980).
In 1970, Gego’s sculptural practice shifted as she created the eighteen Chorros in a burst of artistic output. Whereas the Reticulárea comprise horizontal networks of interconnecting lines, the Chorros are vertical, spatially indeterminate sheaves of wire that cascade to the floor in a torrent, their final form determined by chance as the various rods settle and bend within the spatial confines of their installation. Indeed, although “chorros” is usually translated as “streams,” the title more accurately refers to a waterfall. Gego initially installed the Chorros in her first solo exhibition in New York City at Betty Parsons Gallery in 1971, presenting a chaotic and overwhelming environment of these larger-than-life forms. Autobiography of a Line seeks to reimagine this original installation, bringing together all eighteen Chorros that were exhibited at Betty Parsons Gallery. Following the artist’s intention that the Chorros be displayed as a group, the sculptures in Autobiography of a Line occupy and interrupt the space of the viewer, presenting a barrier that requires spectators to literally renegotiate their relationship with movement and architecture.
After the Betty Parsons exhibition in 1971, Gego did not have a solo exhibition in New York again in her lifetime, and her oeuvre remains largely unexamined in relation to the constellation of international artists of the time. She spent the majority of her later years at her studio in Caracas, working on a series of works called Tejeduras (weavings), which will also be on view in Autobiography of a Line. These textile-like creations are works on paper only nominally: the artist treats found scraps of paper as fabric and thread, weaving pages from magazines, metallic strips of cigarette paper, photographs of work, and other elements into a unified whole. Gego had learned to weave as an adolescent in Germany, and it is in this reifying act that the conceptual core of the artist’s practice—with its fervor for creating connections, breaking them apart, tracing wandering lines, and entwining disparate materials and ideas—comes into focus. In presenting a retrospective exhibition of Gego’s work in New York, Autobiography of a Line seeks to position the artist in an international context and highlight the ways in which Gego’s work remains imminent—in a Deleuzian perpetual process of becoming—today.