Gego, born Gertrud Goldschmidt in Germany, established herself as a leading figure of Venezuelan geometric abstraction. Her sculpture and printmaking drew inspiration from her Bauhaus training and her studying to be an architect and engineer. For her sculptures she used twisted, knotted, and suspended stainless steel wire. Her use of industrial materials and Constructivist principles of sculpture yielded elusive forms with an undercurrent of organic nature.
Gego worked as a draftsman in Germany while completing degrees in both architecture and engineering from the University of Stuttgart in 1938. In 1939, when she was 27 years old, she arrived in Caracas, Venezuela as a refugee from Hitler’s Germany. She worked as a freelance architect until the mid-1940s. In 1953, she moved to a coastal town and began her figurative and expressionist artistic work in drawings, watercolors, and monotypes. In 1956, she returned to Caracas and switched to making geometric abstract wire sculptures which focused on the nature of space.
Gego represented two distinctive features of Latin American geometric abstraction. One was her status as a Central European immigrant who brought Constructivist and Bauhaus legacies, that were transformed by native-born Latin American artists. The other feature was her gender. The number of women artists in Latin America at that time was greater than one would expect. Some of these women artists were: Marta Boto, Maria Freire, Elsa Gramcko, Judith Lauand, Mercedes Paro, Mira Schendel, and Grete Stern.
Gego taught at the school of architecture of the Universidad Central de Venezuela and at the Espcuela de Artes Plastics Cristobal Rojas. She helped found the Instituto de Diseno Neumann in Caracas where she taught from 1964 to 1977.
Her sculptural works always emerged from her use of a line. Sometimes her lines formed planes that constructed volumes; sometimes they dissolved planes where the depth was similar to the distance between their lines. This produced transparency and vibration, giving the work a kinetic sense.
While some of her work was suspended, the joints and supports of her sculptures were often visible. One of her suspended works attached lengths of wire with X-shaped joinery, evoking an 8-foot cascade of shooting stars. Its shadow, which was seen on adjacent walls, added to the evanescence of the work.
Since 1957, Gego developed the system of parallel lines in drawings and in sculptures – ‘fabrics’ of parallel lines that folded and – when superimposed onto others – created weaves. Gego often took the line into three-dimensional space because the movement of the viewer of the work was necessary so that the viewer could see the interpenetration of her weaves. The viewer must reconstruct the work and reorganize it in order for the work to appear to be what it really was.
In 1957, Gego was one of the participants in the exhibition “Arte abstract en Venezuela.” Two years later New York’s Museum of Modern Art acquired her work. She moved to New York in 1960 and lived in the United States for several years. In 1966, she visited June Wayne at Wayne’s Tamarind Lithography Workshop where she produced thirty-one lithographs. Gego used printmaking as a mode of linear experimentation and at a reception there said, “I discovered that sometimes the in-between lines are as important as the lines by themselves.”
In the mid-1960s, Gego departed from the basic concept of kinetic art because her idea of line and space changed. She thought that a line was not just a component in a larger work but was in fact a work by itself. For her the line became the image. In 1969, she began her first series of “Reticulareas,” her most popular artworks. They were made from aluminum and steel, fixed together to make wire grids and were suspended from the ceiling. Her interweaving of nets and webs would fill an entire room; her repetition and layering made the work seem endless. She called these sculptures “drawings without paper.”
Her public work consisted of architecturally integrated sculpture for pubic buildings, homes, and shopping malls, an example of which is her “Cuerdas (Cords),” a sculpture-installation of suspended nylon and stainless steel strips for the Parque Central Complex in Caracas.
She has had dozens of solo exhibitions in Venezuela, England, Germany, and the United States. Her work was shown in the exhibition “The Sites of Latin American Abstraction” at the Museum of Latin American Art (MOLAA), Long Beach, California.
Her work is in the permanent collections of major museums in Venezuela, Switzerland, Spain, Germany, England, and Argentina. In the United States her work is in the collections of New York’s Museum of Modern Art, Pratt Graphic Art Center, Pasadena’s Norton Simon Museum, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and others.
There was a major retrospective of her work shown at Brazil’s Museu de Arte de Sao Paulo Assis Chateaubriand in 2019. This show will travel to Museo Jumex in Mexico City and then to the Guggenheim. This will be the first major New York museum retrospective dedicated to her.