Geta Brătescu’s vivid practice has comprised performance, textiles, collage, print-making, installation and film. Living and working in Bucharest throughout Ceauşescu’s regime, Brătescu embraced the studio as an autonomous space, free from economic or political influences.Concerned with identity and dematerialisation, Brătescu conjures questions of ethics and femininity through her longstanding curiosity in mythical and literary figures, including Aesop, Faust, Beckett and Medea.
By Efi Michalarou
Photo: Hauser & Wirth Gallery Archive
At 91 years old, Geta Brătescu continues her prolific output, working in her apartment studio every day. The exhibition “The Leaps of Aesop” at Hauser & Wirth Gallery in New York provides a rare opportunity to explore the artist’s oeuvre throughout her long-standing yet widely unknown practice. Aesop, the ancient Greek fabulist, serves as a point of departure for the exhibition, which features more than 50 works that span Brătescu’s career. In many ways a fitting avatar for Brătescu, Aesop manifests in the works on view as a symbol of antic irreverence, mocking authority and status. A spirited believer in the role of the artist as that of a disruptor, Brătescu has championed ideas of play and disorder throughout her vibrant practice. Brătescu studied at the Academy of Fine Arts, Bucharest, in the late ‘40s, but was expelled before completing the course due to intervention from the newly dominant Communist party. Having worked primarily as an illustrator and animator although still exhibiting her own work, in 1969 Brătescu returned to University and, as a fine art student once more, had access to a shared studio space. When back at the Academy her practice became more experimental, and she found in the studio a precious resource which she saw as a space to redefine the self. Brătescu is fascinated by the disruptive potential of magnets, as illustrated in her landmark work “Magnets in the City” (1974), a photomontage with an accompanying text describing the ways in which magnets of various sizes, placed outside and within the city limits, unleash their hazardous energies, generating chaos while simultaneously reminding people of their own volition and power to act. In the same vein, the final segment of film, “The Studio” in which the artist’s performative actions define the studio space, which in turn determines her bodily gestures, and is a key work in the exhibition. Brătescu also worked with textiles, sometimes with fragments of cloth left to her by her mother. In the 1980s she made a series of important textile works that she described as “Drawing with a sewing machine” including “Hypostases of Medea VIII” and “Hypostases of Medea IX” (both 1980,) the subject of which was the Greek mythological character who, in the Euripides play of the same name, kills her children to punish her husband’s betrayal, thereby confounding traditional expectations of a wife/mother figure. “Anti-Faust” is an installation of almost formless drawings, developed as an antithesis to the conceptual and technical rigor of the Faust series, turning the visual interpretation of a literary masterpiece into an uncanny meditation on the self. In recent years Brătescu’s practice has focused on collage, or “Drawing with scissors” as the artist describes it. The exhibition features the ongoing series of paper cut-outs “Game of Forms” in them each sheet of paper is like a field of competing energies, a theatrical or dance stage, where the profusion of shapes cut out with scissors enact condensed and abstracted versions of the Aesopian plays. “Cocktail Automatic” (1993), captures the anxiety of the artistic process, marked by lapses, pointless repetitions, and failed attempts at beginning something. Geta Brătescu was selected to represent Romania at the 57th Venice Biennale.
Info: Hauser & Wirth Gallery, 548 West 22nd Street, New York, Duration: 13/11-23/12/17, Days & Hours: Tue-Sat 10:00-18:00, www.hauserwirth.com