Geta Brătescu: Matrix 254

Shotgun Review

Geta Brătescu: Matrix 254

By Jeanne Gerrity September 25, 2014

Romanian artist Geta Brătescu transforms commonplace objects and materials—a ball of twine, black felt, her own hand—into creative props in her carefully composed collages, films, sculptures, drawings, and photographs. This ingenuity reflects the fact that Brătescu (born in 1926) created the majority of her work during the years of Nicolae Ceauşescu’s dictatorship (1965–1989), when supplies were scarce, state-propaganda art was promoted, and the experimental avant-garde suppressed. 

Operating on the periphery, Brătescu’s everyday routine became intertwined with her art practice, in which her body—and particularly her hands—frequently becomes a synecdoche for her existence. In Fals Joc de-a Fapta (The False Game of Deed) (1985) white gesso molds of the artist’s hands, fingers extended, are posed with clusters of smooth stones and colored marbles. The artist’s hands are also the focus of the camera in the seven-and-a-half-minute film Mâini. Mâna trupului meu îmi reconstituie portretul (Hands. The hand of my body reconstitutes my portrait) (1977), which zooms in and out on them as they perform banal activities such as playing cat’s cradle, touching a glass, smoking a cigarette, and tracing their own outline in black ink. 

Geta Brătescu. Memorie (Memories) (detail), 1990; collage with tempera on paper; 40 pieces; 24 2/5 x 14 2/5 in. each. Courtesy of Ivan Gallery, Bucharest.

The longer film Atelierul (The Studio) (1978) continues Brătescu’s intimate blurring of her personal identity and her art. Near the beginning, a shot of monolithic Soviet architecture out the window establishes the studio as a refuge from her immediate environment. The artist arises slowly from slumber and begins to draw the measurements of her body on the wall and the floor. Her actions soon devolve into near-slapstick performance of seemingly aimless actions like banging wooden slabs together or buttoning her shirt over her head and walking around like a zombie. 

Brătescu’s films maintain a level of playfulness absent from her more somber collages and sculpture. The forty homogeneous black and gray collages arranged in two rows that comprise Memorie (Memory) (1990) are open-ended, but perhaps hint at the recently ended oppressive political regime, as curator Apsara DiQuinzio suggests in her essay. (At the bottom of each paper, the artist has written the word “memorie” in pencil, easily erased but also made more permanent by its repetition.) In Didona (Dido) (2000), on the facing wall, narrow strips of black felt drape like shackles, and seven rectangular black objects framing ovals of aluminum foil hang from black clothespins. Like Memorie, this enigmatic work is also suggestive of a memorial. 

Geta Brătescu: Matrix 254 presents a fascinating yet ambiguous selection of this under-recognized artist’s work, in which physical comedy abuts darker concerns and the boundaries between art and life are always intractably crossed.

Geta Brătescu / MATRIX 254 is on view at UC Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAMPFA), in Berekeley, through September 28, 2014.

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