A Review of Geta Brătescu: The Power of the Line at Hauser & Wirth, London
Hauser & Wirth pays homage to Geta Brătescu in its latest exhibition, The Power of the Line. It explores the constantly evolving use of the line in the artist’s most recent works. The exhibition was organised in close collaboration with the artist as well as Marian Ivan and Diana Ursan of Ivan Gallery, resulting in a highly introspective display.
The exhibition features works from the past decade, representing to a full extent the potential of the line as a structuring principle. Brătescu, in her diary published in 2008, emphasised the importance of this simple element, the line, in story-telling. She wrote: “When I draw, I tell a story about forms […]. To me, drawing […] is the release of an intrinsic, structural energy, a joy.”
The intersection between remembering, writing and drawing, emblematic of Brătescu’s oeuvre, is thoroughly documented in Game of Forms, a new publication by Hauser & Wirth accompanying the exhibition. Pairing her paintings with the lines from her diary, the book offers an innovative way of thinking about the artist’s work as a holistic union between intimate thought and geometric objectivity.
Brătescu used the line to create, indeed, ‘games of forms.’ These walk a careful line between figuration and abstraction, theatricality and literariness. The works at Hauser & Wirth manifest this tension, expressed by Brătescu using a plethora of media and configurations. Curved, hard-edged, contained, spread, coloured or colourless. Everything goes back to the line, an element that is at times sharp and dry and at others volcanic.
Two film works are played alongside Brătescu’s collages and drawings. Both give interesting insights into the creative process of the artist, showing her intimate and playful character. We see Brătescu amidst tubes of glue, black sharpies and scissors, as she continues to rework a drawing filled with Malevich-like shapes. In Brătescu’s hands, these objects and images enter an almost floating dimension. Her unstoppable imagination frees the heavy blacks of these shapes, generating a solid dance. She repeatedly affirms her love for dancing, comparing the sinuous movements of her hands to a choreography. She muses: “When I draw, I can say that my hand dances. Forms […] dance – if they do not dance, they grow bored, they die.”
The artist lived through a difficult historical period, characterized by a restrictive regime, the WWII, the Soviet occupation, and heavy bombings to her native town, Ploiești. In the mid-‘40s, coinciding with the purges, Brătescu was expelled from the Academy of Fine Arts due to political antagonisms. Despite this, her compositions maintained a joie de vivre throughout all her career. Over seventy years, she developed a deeply personal practice, pioneering conceptualism in Romania. Her vast body of work comprises everything from drawing to textiles, and explores ideas ranging from identity, gender, and dematerialisation through her endless formal and philosophical curiosity.
The drawings in this exhibition express her visual eclecticism. One, two thick lines and then… “done!” Brătescu would say. Approaching the last years of her life, the works shown by Hauser & Wirth focus on the formal, experimental exercises of Brătescu. ‘Untitled (The Line – Game of Forms)’ (2013) attests to all this, and maybe more. Combining together thirty-five consequential representations, it follows a surrealist, dream-like structure. Described by the artist as the “traces of her memories and experiences,” they almost reenact free-associations, or even the surrealist game ‘exquisite corpse.’ Every piece of the puzzle is connected to its neighbour cut-out by means of an identical shape repeated immediately after, or by similar colours. Simultaneously, all of them constitute a self sufficient narrative. A ‘Picasso-esque’ figure morphs into what could equally be a fluorescent spermatozoa or the Eye of Horus. Dense compositions alternate themselves to minimal lines; abstract geometries substitute evocative designs.
Geometric and abstract shapes in vivid pinks or yellows follow one another on the gallery’s walls, demonstrating the ever changing adaptability of the line. This primordial element is used to create abstract or embodied shapes, intimate or geometrical landscapes, black and white memories or bright scenes. Line itself continues ad infinitum. In Brătescu’s composition, it can only be contained by the limits of the page.
This hybrid oeuvre shows Brătescu’s freedom in thinking, and her unrestrained approach to various media. Contrasts never become violent and always maintain a certain harmony. The intimate and introspective atmosphere of her studio encouraged this unfettered approach. There, she continued to experiment with anything that came in handy. Everyday materials, objects and processes turned into unique configurations. She frequently used inexpensive materials as a point of departure to engender an intimate aesthetic. Untitled (Fără titlu) (2013) is made up of found materials, such as torn paper, coffee sticks, and match boxes. Seemingly random objects are assembled together to create a personal, penetrating narrative.
Her insatiable curiosity trespasses to the spectator immediately. Watching Brătescu at work we find ourselves wondering alongside her what will happen next. “Let’s see what comes to my mind,” she repeats in the video. Brătescu, notwithstanding her age, is seen as energetic as ever. She joyfully speaks with her interlocutor, constantly drawing almost automatic lines on her paper, or cutting out shapes to glue on top of it, ‘drawing with scissors,’ as she would say. At times pensive and insecure, at others steady and confident, her hand and mind continuously wonder around the blank pages.
Written by Irene Machetti, a Contributor to Arteviste