Gego. Elusive Transparency
Mónica Amor

Gego’s most rigorous works plunge into the opacity of local effects, perceptual ambiguity, and contextual vacillation. These are geometries to be seen in a field, not to be read on a page.

In 1974, Gego (Gertrud Goldschmidt, 1912–1994) initiated a series of works entitled Troncos (Trunks), followed, in 1976, by another grouping known as Esferas (Spheres). The Troncos, also called “columns” in Gego’s notebook recording her works from 1971–1984, are vertical pieces, whose structural soundness, arguably analogous to the supporting role of columns in architecture, are a far cry from the dissipation of the Reticulárea (1969) and the subsequent Chorros (1970–71).

Gego, Troncos and Esferas, Installation view Museu D`Art Contemporani de Barcelona, 2006. © Museu d'Art Contemporani de Barcelona
Gego, Reticulárea (Ambientación), 1969, Installation view Museo de Bellas Artes, Caracas, 1969. Photo Paolo Gasparini, © Fundación Gego
Gego, Chorros, Exhibition Sculpture and Drawings, Betty Parsons Gallery, New York, 1971. Photo William Suttle, © Fundación Gego

Grounded and suspended from the ceiling, or simply resting on the floor, they seem to grow steadily and systematically upward. There exists a variety of Troncos, some of which are thin and tall, while others are chunky and short. The implicit core of these works is delineated by stacked rings made of a reticular mesh of intricate connectivity obeying a system of construction that allows little error but also varies from one Tronco to another. In some instances the tissue that constitutes the structure is open, airy, transparent, while in other cases, it is neatly and tightly woven, depending on the polygonal matrix (i.e. pentagonal, hexagonal) that generates the total structure. At times, a line of bronze tubes spirals around the body of the Tronco to provide stability and support as in Tronco No. 2 (1975). 

One might argue that these are the most constructivist of Gego’s post-Reticulárea works: defined, self-sufficient, structurally sound, systematically constructed, physically, but also (at least in principle) mentally transparent, since as viewers we can identify and penetrate the structure of the work, its configuration, and the logic of its connectivity. It was precisely in 1976 that Gego published, with her students from the Institute of Design Fundación Neumann, Espacio, Volumen y Organización (Space, Volume and Organization), a pamphlet that details the increasing complexity of volumes according to their organization in space. The systematic study of classical geometry, related to her pedagogical activities at the Institute, were, evidently, the source for this embrace of a self-sufficient organic model where the relationship of parts to a whole defines the operative structure. Moreover, due to her training as an architect, geometry—architecture’s ideal language of communication—was Gego’s lingua franca.

Under the aegis of these published studies, directly linked to her Seminario de Relaciones Espaciales (Seminar of Spatial Relations) developed between 1971 and 1976 at the Institute, Gego then returned to a more systematic use of geometry. During this period, Ruth Auerbach explains, Gego is “dazzled by geometry” and, in words that succinctly define the morphological and conceptual paradox of the seventies, “her interest [in geometry] grows in proportion to her creative impulse to liberate her discovery.”1  1 Ruth Auerbach, “Gego. Constructing a Didactics,” Gego. Obra Completa 1955–1990, Caracas: Fundación Cisneros, 2000, p. 410.  It is at this point that Gego embarks on a systematic study of the referential universe of the Reticulárea: “She focuses her attention on mathematics in art, the analysis of reticular structures, tensegrity, the geodesic proposals of Buckminster Fuller, spherical models, and above all, the transformation of polyhedrons.”2  2 Ibid. Many of the Esferas produced during this period are literal translations of the geometric models considered in the pedagogical setting of the Instituto. Nevertheless, Gego relished the pronounced gap between the eidetic dimension of the model and the perceptual ambiguity of the object. For example, she allowed herself to mock the rigor of the geometrical abstraction by surrounding the Esferas with extraneous elements, such as a thin chain of metal bits.

Gego, Esfera No. 5, 1977. Photo Anne and Thierry Benedetti, © Fundación Gego

Indeed, despite a marked obedience to the morphology of mathematical models, Gego indulged in a sort of geometric subjectivism that was facilitated by the material transparency of her structures. Surely we can traverse these works with our eyes and see through to the space beyond, the surrounding environment that activates and becomes part of the work. But it is precisely because of this (elusive) transparency, produced by the thin metal rods of aluminum delineating the geometric model without an opaque background facilitating legibility, that the intelligible structure dissipates. In other words, physical transparency undermines conceptual transparency due to the impossibility of isolating the work. This condition is furthered by the increasing complexity of the model, for example in the case of Tres Icosidodecaedros (Three Icosidodecahedrons, 1977) or by the inclusion of a sphere within a sphere (Esfera No. 3, 1976). These doublings suggest protrusions, deformations, and messiness. No wonder the word messy (in English) recurs in her descriptions of these works from the seventies. Indeed, regarded in context, Gego’s most rigorous works plunge into the opacity of local effects, perceptual ambiguity, and contextual vacillation. These are geometries to be seen in a field, not to be read on a page.

Gego, Tres icosidodecaedros, 1977/2000. Photo Reinaldo Armas Ponce, © Fundación Gego

However, one should note that in photographs produced for the 1977 book published on the occasion of her retrospective at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Caracas, we see recurring images that emphasize shadows projected on the wall, dramatic lighting that distorts the geometric shapes, out-of-focus works that diffuse the sharp linearity of the model. In the aforementioned book, the Troncos are photographed against a black background and illuminated in such way as to turn the reflective stainless steel into a flat drawing delineating space.

Gego, Tronco No. 5, 1976. Photo Anne and Thierry Benedetti, © Fundación Gego

 These photographic, distorting operations are replicated in a puzzling picture, taken around the same time, where three Troncos overlap, displacing clarity and structure for the benefit of the confusing enmeshments favored by Gego’s work.

 Mónica Amor, 2017 Mónica Amor is Professor of Modern and Contemporary Art at the Maryland Institute College of Art, Baltimore, USA.