Geta Bratescu, Medeic Callisthetic Moves II, 1980, yarn on fabric, 23 5/8 x 19 5/8".

Geta Bratescu, Medeic Callisthetic Moves II, 1980, yarn on fabric, 23 5/8 x 19 5/8".

Geta Bratescu

Galerie Mezzanin

Geta Bratescu, Medeic Callisthetic Moves II, 1980, yarn on fabric, 23 5/8 x 19 5/8".

Nine square black-and-white photographs mounted in rows of three opened this remarkable survey of the work of Romanian Conceptual artist Geta Bratescu. The emblematic Towards White, 1976—a set of photographs of the artist covering everything in her studio in white paper and fabric—situates the work of this legendary figure of the Bucharest art scene in terms of process and act, identity and space. In this work, Bratescu documents processes that take us from black to white, from motion to stasis. The images show transformations, both of the protagonist in the space—in the final image she has painted herself, her face become a white mask frozen in midrepresentation—and of a body that is dematerialized, vanishing within its own abstraction.

Bratescu’s experimental films—several of which were featured in the show as well—were often made with her colleague and friend Ion Grigorescu behind the camera. Besides sharing a critical and subversive political standpoint, the two artists were brought together by their experimental approach to their media, from sculpture and photography to 8-mm film, performances, and Happenings. The Studio, 1978, is a film set in the intimate, self-referential space where reality gives way to art—where it shifts into decisive, aestheticized representation. Bratescu’s atelier was a place where avant-garde artists could discover the world by discovering themselves, leaving propaganda and folklore outside. It was a universe of subjectivity, where art was an activity rather than a product. The Studio specifically investigates the relations between body and space: For almost twenty minutes, Bratescu surveys herself and the room she is in, pacing out its dimensions and interacting with the ob-jects in it to put on view the tension between identity, staging, gesture, and form.

Other works explore the nature of public space. In the 1974 series “Magneti,” an assemblage of horseshoe magnets joins a vintage print of them, a little metal box with a crank—a tiny, hand-operated electric power station in the spirit of the readymade—and the drawing On-Off, Electromagnet, which encapsulates this project of visionary urbanism: It depicts an enormous magnet on the outskirts of a town and a smaller one on its main square. By manipulating the magnets, the town’s inhabitants, we are told, would be able to influence its shape and alter time, entering into an endless game of attraction and repulsion. Beyond the purely aesthetic program, though, this project is concerned with cohabitation: Bratescu’s utopian city architectures offer new modes of behavior in the social realm.

A group of works from the 1980s exemplified Bratescu’s investigations of female identity. “Medeic Callisthetic Moves,” 1980–81, is a series of textile collages, light-colored cotton cloths that Bratescu embroidered using her sewing machine. This work is dedicated to Medea, a reliable source of inspiration when it comes to boiling one’s relatives and sending care packages of poisoned clothes—the best possible model for deconstructing patriarchal clichés of femininity; and what could be more ironic than the use of domestic handicrafts in this context?

The art world is often surprisingly slow on the uptake. Bratescu’s oeuvre remained all but unknown internationally until the fall of the Ceauc¸escu regime in 1989. She is now 84 years old, yet has had only a handful of shows outside her native country. It’s not too late to start paying appropriate homage to one of the leading figures of contemporary Eastern European art.

Brigitte Huck

Translated from German by Oliver E. Dryfuss.