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The Right to I ndifference: abstraction in the work of

Gego (1912-1994) and Jess Soto (1923-2005)

Dr Karin Kyburz

Thesis submitted for the Degree of a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
University of London, Courtauld Institute of Art

March 2008

Abstract 4
List of Illustrations 5
Acknowledgements 11
Chronology Gego 12
Chronology Jess Soto 15

Introduction 18
1.1 Gego in Germany and Exile 27
1.2 Venezuelan History 41
Jess Soto: Early Biography 44
Post-war Politics in Venezuela 46
1.3 Artistic Production since Independence 47
Carlos Ral Villanueva 54
Venezuelan Arte Abstracto and Cinetismo 62
1.4 Gegos Search for Continuity 67
Continuity and the Visual 79

Introduction 85
2.1 French Post-war Politics 88
2.2 Abstraction/Figuration 92
2.3 Les Temps Modernes 105
French Bourgeoisie, Religion and Feminism 106
2.4 Philosophical Debates 117
Anti-Semitism in the Fourth Republic? 124
2.5 Le Corbusier and the Festival de lArt davant-garde 129
Ambivalence in the Work of Jess Soto 135
The Object as Obstacle to the Free Flow of Fluids 151
Museo Soto in Ciudad Bolvar 156

Introduction 159
3.1 Unreal Returns: A question of Identity 163
Identity as Politics 179
3.2 Gego and the Anonymous 182
Doubling 185
Memory and Denials 189
Differences 195
3.3 Public and Private Works 202
Kantian Structures 210
3.4 German Memories 217
The Exhibition Spielraum-Raumspiele 221
The Historikerstreit 232
Dibujos sin papel: Letting it all go 239
Conclusion 221
Appendix 1 246
Appendix 2 251
Bibliography 253
Illustrations 264

My thesis is an art historical interpretation of the oeuvres of Gego (Gertrud Luise Goldschmidt,
1912-1994) and Jess Soto (1923-2005). It traces the biographies of both artists and situates their
work within the political and social contexts of France and Venezuela during the period c.1950-
1989. The development, in both sites of artistic production, of abstract art and Cintisme is
explained in reference to the historical rupture of the Second World War and personal experiences
of emigration and exile. In the case of Gego emigration from Hamburg, Germany to Caracas
occurred in 1939 as the result of the persecution of Jews in Nazi Germany. Jess Rafael Soto
emigrated from Caracas to Paris in 1950, shortly before a military dictatorship came to power in
Central to my thesis is the discussion of the theoretical implications of exile in the sense
that it affected the historical consciousness and formation of artistic identity of both artists.
Methodologically speaking, I subject Gegos work - her mimetic appropriation of an abstract
aesthetic derived from the Weimar Bauhaus and its revision to a historical materialist analysis.
Jess Sotos career and the form of his oeuvre are interpreted according to the same principles but
under consideration of the impact of the fifth French Republic from 1958 onwards. French
Cintismes subsequent influence on Venezuelan artistic production, which became paramount
during the seventies, is discussed from a political and economic perspective and Sotos focus on
limmatriel contrasted to Gegos use of an integrated materiality. The key terms of my thesis, exile
and assimilation, are shown to relate directly to individual and historical processes in which
materiality assumes the function of expressive medium. I argue that ultimately, these processes
enable the successful transition from one cultural context into an environment that is defined by a
separate set of cultural significations.
List of Illustrations

Fig. 1 Gego with her sister Elisabeth, Hamburg, c.1920. Collection Fundacin Gego, Caracas.

Fig. 2 Postcard Weissenhofsiedlung, Araberdorf, Stuttgart, 1940. Mies van der Rohe Archive,
Museum of Modern Art, New York.

Fig. 3 Ciudad Bolvar, c.1930. Photograph Espinoza y Rebolledo, Collection Marlene Wulff de

Fig. 4 Alejandro Otero, Lineas inclinadas, 1951. Oil on canvas. 80,7 x 65 cm. Collection The Estate
of Alejandro Otero, Caracas.

Fig. 5 Carlos Ral Villanueva, Museo de Ciencias, Caracas, c.1938. Photograph Luis Felipe Toro,
Collection Alberto Vollmer.

Fig. 6 Carlos Ral Villanueva, Universidad Central de Venezuela, Caracas, 1953. Photograph Paolo
Gasparini, reproduced in Juan Pedro Posani, (ed.), Carlos Ral Villanueva: un moderno en
sudamrica, Galera de Arte Nacional, exhibition catalogue, IV Bienale de Arquitectura in So
Paulo and at the Galera de Arte Nacional in Caracas in 1999-2000.

Fig. 7 Carlos Gonzles Bogen, staircase mural, Universidad central, c.1953. My photograph.

Fig. 8 Carlos Ral Villanueva, Urbanicacin 23 de Enero, Caracas, c.1957. Photograph Paolo
Gasparini. Reproduced in Juan Pedro Posani, (ed.), Carlos Ral Villanueva: un moderno en
sudamrica, Galera de Arte Nacional, exhibition catalogue, IV Bienale de Arquitectura in So
Paulo and at the Galera de Arte Nacional in Caracas in 1999-2000.

Fig. 9 Gego, Partiendo de un rombo, 1958. Welded iron, painted, 56,8 x 44,5 x 32,7 cm. Collection
Galera de Arte Nacional, Caracas.

Fig. 10 Gego, Vibracin en negro, 1957. Painted Aluminium, 75 x 60 x 43 cm. Collection
Fundacin Gego, Caracas.

Fig. 11 Gego, Escultura, Banco Industrial de Venezuela, 1962. Aluminium and iron, height 10 m.
Collection Banco Industrial de Venezuela, Caracas.

Fig. 12 Gego, Cuerdas, Centro Simn Bolvar, 1972. Nylon and iron, 18 x 17,5 x 22 m. Collection
Centro Simn Bolvar Parque Central, Caracas.

Fig. 13 Gego, Sin ttulo, 1958. Ink and tempera on paper, 36,6 x 29 cm. Collection Fundacin Gego,

Fig. 14 Gego, Cinta, 1962. Welded iron, painted, 164 x 161 x 113 cm. Collection Galera de Arte
Nacional Caracas.

Fig. 15 Gego, Untitled, c.1956. Tempera on wood, approximately 20 x 25 cm. Collection of Hans
Meyer, Kent, England.

Fig. 16 Gego, Doce crculos concntricos (Girando Moebius), 1957. Painted Aluminium, 36 x 29 x
24 cm. Collection of Toms and Cecilia Gunz, Caracas.

Fig. 17 Gego, Mural INCE, 1969. Aluminium, enamelled steel, back wall with crystal mosaic.
Approximate dimensions 6 x 20 m. Collection Instituto Nacional de Cooperacin Educativa,

Fig. 18 Paul Citroen, Mazdasnan-Kuren, 1922. Graphite on drawing, 21,5 x 19,3 cm. Bauhaus-
Archiv, Berlin.

Fig. 19 Gego, Ocho cuadrados, 1961. Painted welded iron. 170 x 64 x 40 cm. Collection of Jimmy

Fig. 20 Gego, Sin ttulo, 1959. Ink on paper, 27,9 x 21,5 cm. Collection Fundacin Gego, Caracas.

Fig. 21 Gego, Espiral sin fin, 1958. Painted stainless steel. 30 x 25 x 25,5 cm. Collection Museo de
Arte Contemporneo Sofa Imber, Caracas.

Fig. 22 Max Bill, Reverse Spiral, 1944-48, Steel wire, 17 x 17 cm. Collection Jakob Bill.

Fig. 23 Max Bill, Doppelflche mit sechs rechtwinkligen Ecken, 1948-1979. Stone, 164 x 86 x 140
cm and Alejandro Otero, Title unknown, undated. My photograph.

Fig. 24 Gego, Esfera en hexaedro, 1964. Welded iron, painted. 63 x 98 x 98 cm. Collection of
Barbara Gunz, Caracas.

Fig. 24a Jess Soto, Estructura en hierro UCV, 1957. Painted iron structure, approximate
dimensions 170 x 80 x 50 cm. Collection Universidad Central de Venezuela, Caracas.

Fig. 25 Gego, Partiendo de un cuadrado, 1958. Aluminium, 90 x 90 x 70 cm. Collection Instituto
Venezolano de Investigaciones Cientficas, Caracas.

Fig. 25a Pedro Briceo Despliegue Interno-Externo del Prisma, 1958. Painted iron, 109,5 x 24,3 x
47 cm. Collection Dianora Morazzini Besson.

Fig. 26 Gego Cuatro tetraedros, 1966. Painted iron, 57 x 89 x 130 cm. Collection Ignacio and
Valentina Oberto.

Fig. 27 Technical drawing from Keith Critchlow, Order in Space: a design source book, Thames
and Hudson, London, 1969 and Viking Press, New York, 1970.

Fig. 28 Installation view of 'Le Mouvement' exhibition, Paris, 1955. Archive Galerie Denise Ren,

Fig. 29 Victor Vasarely, Vega-Lep, 1970. Acrylic on canvas, 150 x 150 cm. Private collection.
Reproduced in Vasarely, Richard C. Morgan, Naples and New York, 2004.

Fig. 30 Group photograph artists included in the exhibition NUL65, Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam,
1965. Archive Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam.

Fig. 31 Reims Shopping Mall, Architect: Claude Parent, 1970. Loeil, June-July, 1970, p. 36.
Fig. 32 Jess Soto, Leo Viejo, 1961. Painted wood, iron wire, metal, 40 x 15 x 24 cm. Private
collection. Reproduced in Soto, exhibition catalogue, Jeu de Paume, Paris, 1997.

Fig. 33 Jess Soto and Narciso Debourg, Paris c.1950. Photograph Archive Jess Soto, Paris.

Fig. 34 Jess Soto, Leo, 1961. Painted wood, iron wire, metal. 75 x 25 x 16 cm. Collection Patricia
Phelps de Cisneros, Caracas.

Fig. 35 Jess Soto, Vibracin roja, azul y negra, 1958. Paint on wood and iron wire, 95 x 81 x 25
cm. Collection Museo de Arte Moderno Jess Soto, Ciudad Bolvar, Venezuela.

Fig. 36 Jess Soto, Sans titre, 1959-60. Wood, wire and oil paint, 1959-60. Painted wood, wire,
metal. 90 x 30 x 34 cm. Collection of Madame Marie-Louise Berthodin.

Fig. 37 Jess Soto, Soto, Leo Vejo, 1960. Painted wood, iron wire, metal, 75 x 25 x 16 cm.
Collection Galera de Arte Nacional, Caracas.

Fig. 38 Jess Soto, Sans titre, 1960. Paint on Isorel, plaster and metal, 102 x 102 cm. Collection
Alain Gheerbrant.

Fig. 39 Jess Soto, La scie metaux, 1960. Paint on Isorel, plaster and metal, 100 x 100 cm. Private
collection. Reproduced in Soto, exhibition catalogue, Jeu de Paume, Paris, 1997.

Fig. 40 Jess Soto, Leno azul y negro, 1960. Paint on Isorel, plaster and metal, 137 x 90 x 11 cm.
Private collection. Reproduced in Soto, exhibition catalogue, Jeu de Paume, Paris, 1997.

Fig. 40a Jess Soto, Leno azul y negro, detail cube, 1960. Paint on Isorel, plaster and metal, 137 x
90 x 11 cm. Private collection. Reproduced in Soto, exhibition catalogue, Jeu de Paume, Paris,

Fig. 41 Jess Soto and Jean Tinguely, Mural de Bruxelles, 1961. Photograph collection Vera
Spoerri, Paris.

Fig. 42 ZERO demonstration, Otto Piene, Gnter Uecker, Heinz Mack, Rheinwiesen Dsseldorf,
1962. Photograph Zero : internationale Kunstler-Avantgarde der 50er-60er Jahre, exhibition
catalogue, Museum Kunst Palast, Dsseldorf and Muse d'Art Moderne, Saint-Etienne, 2006-2007.

Fig. 43 Jess Soto, El ovalo verde y negro, 1969. Saint on Word, metal and nylon, 100 x 100.
Private collection. Reproduced in Soto, exhibition catalogue, Jeu de Paume, Paris, 1997.

Fig. 44 Jess Soto, Volume virtuel suspendue, Royal Bank of Canada, Toronto, 1977. Soto,
exhibition catalogue, Galerie nationale du Jeu de Paume, Paris, 1997.

Fig. 45 Jess Soto, Volume virtuel Air France, Roissy, 1989-95. Photograph Batrice Hatala.

Fig. 46 Jess Soto, Halle de la Rgie Renault Boulogne Billancourt, 1975. Photograph Imago,
Paris/Collection Museo de Arte Moderno Jess Soto, Ciudad Bolvar, Venezuela.

Fig. 47 Jean-Baptiste Giraud, Achilles, 1789. Marble, 55 x 80 cm. Muse Granet, Aix-en-Provence.

Fig. 48 Anne-Louis Girodet-Trioson, The Sleep of Endymion, 1791. Oil on canvas, 197 x 261 cm.
Muse du Louvre, Paris.

Fig. 49 Gego at the Museo de Arte Contemporneo, 1977. Photograph Fundacin Gego, Caracas.

Fig. 50 Caracas, Parque Central, under construction, c.1975. Photograph reproduced in Soledad
Mendoza, (ed.), As es Caracas, Ateneo de Caracas, Ediciones Amn, Caracas, 1980. Photographic
credit unavailable.

Fig. 51 Gego, Torrecilla, 1968. Welded iron, height 39 cm. Private collection.

Fig. 52 Jess Soto, Estructura en hierro (Pre-penetrable), 1957. Paint on iron structure, 166 x 126,5
x 85,5 cm. Collection Patricia Phelps de Cisneros, Caracas.

Fig. 53 Cinco pantellas, 1968-71. Aluminium and iron, height: 3,5 m. Collection Instituto
Venezolano de Investigaciones Cientfcas, Caracas.

Fig. 54 Gego, Reticulrea 75, 1975. Steel, 210 x 260 cm. Collection AT&T, New Jersey.

Fig. 55 John Borrego, Space, Grid, Structures, Skeletal Frameworks and Stresses Skin Systems,
MIT Press, Cambridge Massachusetts, 1968.

Fig. 56 Gego Dibujo sin papel, 78.15, 1978. Iron and plastic, 50 x 45 x 8,54 cm. Collection Batriz
Fig. 57 Dibujo sin papel, 87.25, 1987. Steel and copper, 36 x 36,5 x 2 cm. Collection Fundacin
Gego, Caracas.

Fig. 58 John Borrego, Space, Grid, Structures, Skeletal Frameworks and Stresses Skin Systems,
MIT Press, Cambridge Massachusetts, 1968.

Fig. 59 Gego, Dibujo sin papel 76.4, 1976. Iron, iron and Plexiglass 67,5 x 73 x 19,3 cm. Collection
Helly Tineo.

Fig. 60 Gego, Sin ttulo, 1963. Ink on paper, 35 x 28 cm. Collection Fundacin Gego, Caracas.

Fig. 61 Jess Soto, Volume suspendue, Cubo Negro, Centro Banaven, Caracas, 1979. Collection
Centro Banaven, Caracas.

Fig. 62 Caracas, c.1978. Photograph reproduced in Soledad Mendoza, (ed.), As es Caracas, Ateneo
de Caracas, Ediciones Amn, Caracas, 1980. Photographic credit unavailable.

Fig. 63 View of Atrium at Centro Simn Bolvar with Gego, Cuerdas, 1972. Nylon and iron, 18 x
17,5 x 22 m. Collection Centro Simn Bolvar Parque Central, Caracas.

Fig. 64 Gego, Cuadrilteros, 1982-83. Aluminium tubes. Metro station La Hoyoda, Caracas.
Collection C.A. Metro de Carcas.

Fig. 64a Gego, preparatory sketch for Cuadrilteros, 1982. Collection Fundacin Gego, Caracas.

Fig. 65 Diagram from El arte cintico y sus orgenes, exhibition catalogue, Ateneo, Caracas, 1969

Fig. 66 Gego, Chorros, Betty Parsons Gallery, New York, 1971. Steel, various dimensions.
Collection Fundacin Gego, Caracas. Photo William Shuttle.

Fig. 66a Gego and Chorros, Betty Parsons Gallery, New York, 1971.

Fig. 67 Gego, Reticulrea cuadrada no 5, 1973. Steel, 200 x 70 x 70 cm. Collection Museo de Arte
Contemporneo, Caracas.

Fig. 68 Gego, Reticulrea ambientacin, 1969. Installation view Museo de Bellas Artes, Caracas,
Room 8, June-July 1969. Steel, 5,4 x 3,5 x 5 m. Collection Galera de Arte Nacional, Caracas.

Fig. 69 Gego, Sin ttulo, 1977. Steel and iron, 45 x 69 x 69 cm. Collectionm Fundacin Gego,

Fig. 70 Gego, Columna, (Reticulrea cuadrada), 1972. Steel, aluminium, iron and nylon, 340 x 90
x 90 cm. Private collection. Reproduced in Gego, Obra completa, Caracas, 2003.

Fig. 71 Gego, Dibujo sin papel 79.9, 1979. Steel and iron, 27,5 x 32 x 17 cm. Private collection.
Reproduced in Gego, Obra completa, Caracas, 2003.

Fig. 72 Anselm Kiefer, Nrnberg, 1981/82. Oil on canvas, 290 x 390 cm. Reproduced in Zeitgeist:
Internationale Kunstaustellung Berlin 1982, exhibition catalogue, Martin-Gropius Bau, Berlin,
Frlich & Kaufmann, Berlin, 1982.

Fig. 73 Alte Oper, Frankfurt am Main, 2005. Photograph reproduced in the prospectus for the
concert season 2005-2006.

Fig. 74 Christian Megert Spiegelplastik, undated. No details provided. Photograph reproduced in
Spielraum-Raumspiele, exhibition catalogue, Alte Oper, Frankfurt am Main, 1982.

Fig. 75 Gnter Uecker, Nailed and Fragmented Alte Oper, 1982. Date and dimensions unknown.
Photograph reproduced in Spielraum-Raumspiele, exhibition catalogue, Alte Oper, Frankfurt am
Main, 1982.

Fig. 76 Gnter Uecker, Nailed Nail, 1962. Metal, 200 x 40 cm. Private collection. Reproduced in
Honisch, Dieter, Uecker, Harry N. Abrams, Inc. Publishers, New York, 1989.

Fig. 77 Gnter Uecker and Hans Richter, Occupation of the Kunsthalle Baden-Baden, 1968.
Reproduced in Honisch, Dieter, Uecker, Harry N. Abrams, Inc. Publishers, New York, 1989.

Fig. 78 Uecker Sand Spirale, 1965. Sand, lead, twine, electric motor with steel arm, diameter 150
cm. Collection of the artist. Reproduced in Honisch, Dieter, Uecker, Harry N. Abrams, Inc.
Publishers, New York, 1989.

Fig. 79 Otto Piene, Feuerbild, c. 1960. Atelier Httenstrasse, Dsseldorf. Reproduced in Zero :
internationale Kunstler-Avantgarde der 50er-60er, exhibition catalogue Museum Kunst Palast,
Dsseldorf and Muse d'Art Moderne, Saint-Etienne, 2006-2007. Photograph Marene Heyne,

Fig. 80 Gnter Uecker, TV auf Tisch, 1963. TV, wood, nails, glue, 118 x 80 x 80 cm. Collection of
the artist. Reproduced in Honisch, Dieter, Uecker, Harry N. Abrams, Inc. Publishers, New York,

Fig. 81 Gego, Installation of Reticulrea, 1982. Spielraum-Raumspiele, Alte Oper Frankfurt.
Photograph Fundacin Gego, Caracas.

Fig. 82 Gego, Page from Spielraum-Raumspiele catalogue. Alte Oper, Frankfurt am Main, 1982. No
photographic credit provided.

Fig. 83 Gego looking at the Reticurea, Liszt Salon, 1982. Alte Oper Frankfurt. Reproduced in
Gego, Obra completa, Caracas, 2003.

Fig. 84 Gego, Dibujo sin papel, 79.19, 1979. Steel and various metals, 37 x 36 x 0,9 cm. Collection
Andrs Zancani.

Fig. 85 Gego, Dibujo sin papel, 85.12, 1985. Steel and iron, 98 x 101 x 2 cm. Collection Fundacin
Gego, Caracas.

Fig. 86 Gego, Bicho 87.11, 1987. Steel and painted stone, 40 x 30 x 31 cm. Collection Patricia
Phelps de Cisneros.


Foremost I wish to thanks my supervisor at the Courtauld Institute of Art Dr Shulamith Behr for
freely sharing her vast knowledge of the historiography of Jewish art and culture and for guiding me
with great sensitivity through my PhD. Working with Dr Shulamith Behr was an immensely
enriching experience. I am grateful also to Professor Mignon Nixon for launching me on my project
and challenging me, perhaps unconsciously, into new approaches to my subject. I am particularly
happy to have had the constant encouragement of Professor Christopher Green who believed at all
moments in the feasibility of my project. The list of professionals who helped me in realising my
thesis is long but I am especially indebted to the administrative and library staff of the Courtauld
There are of course other institutions on which I have relied during my research. The library
at the Institute of International Visual Art (INIVA) in London soon became my main and favourite
resource for literature in the field of post-colonial studies, not least because of its unique collection
of rare books on the Venezuelan artistic context.
Two grants from the Central Research Fund in London have allowed me to undertake
journeys to Caracas, Paris, Stuttgart and Karlsruhe. This facilitated the gathering of crucial research
material and, most importantly, enabled me to see works by Gego which, to this day, have never
been shown outside Venezuela. Clearly, those who made an invaluable contribution to my work are
far away in Caracas. Many thanks to Barbara and Tmas Gunz, Josephina Manrique and all those
working at the Fundacin Gego. I feel privileged in having had access to all published material on
Gego and many at the time still unpublished notes and letters. Thanks also to the painters Glenn
Sujo and Luisa Richter who kindly shared with me their memories of Gego, Gerd Leufert, Miguel
Arroyo and life in Caracas in the sixties and seventies. I am deeply indebted to Ariel Jimnez of the
Fundacin Cisneros in Caracas for is clear analysis of the Venezuelan-American connection and for
invaluable insight into the past and future history of Venezuelan art.
This leaves for me to thank all those who have been close to me and patiently endured my
bad temper as well as my melancholy during the last six years. Without their love, their ideas and
sometimes, material support I would have been at a loss. They have actively contributed to this
project. I wish to thank Michael Ajerman, Catherine Chattwell, Michael Le Pelley, Anna Dezeuze,
James Boaden, Sarah James, Dominic Johnson, Catherine Grant, Anna Lovatt and Sarah Turner. Of
course, my warmest thanks are reserved for my family, Heinrich, Elisabeth, Cornelia Myland-
Kyburz, Christine and Samuel Kyburz.
This thesis was written in fond memory of Philip Oesterreicher (1963-1992).
Chronology Gego

1912 Gertrude Luise Goldschmidt was born on August 1 in Hamburg, Germany. She was
the daughter of the German-Jewish banker Eduard Martin Goldschmidt and of
Elisabeth Hanne Adeline Goldschmidt, born Dehn.

1932-1938 Gego moved to Southern Germany to study engineering and architecture at the
Technische Hochschule in Stuttgart, Germany. Her principal tutor was Paul Bonatz
and she obtained her degree as Dipl. Ing. Arch. in autumn 1938.

1939 Only months before the outbreak of the Second World War, Gegos parents were
granted visas by the English authorities. Gego received permission to stay in
England only until she found a place for permanent stay elsewhere. In August she
travelled by boat to Caracas in Venezuela.

1940 Marriage to Ernst Gunz, a German business man. Gegos two children, Toms and
Barbara were born in 1942 and 1944, respectively.

1947 Gego visited her parents who had moved from England to Los Angeles. This is
probably the last occasion on which Gego saw her mother.

1948 Coup d'Etat and beginning of a ten-year dictatorship under General Marcos Prez
Jimnez. An enormous architectural modernisation programme of the capital
Caracas started in 1946 and was promoted most aggressively during the next

1951 Gego separated from Ernst Gunz. They were officially divorced in 1952.

1953 Gertrud Goldschmidt had met the painter and graphic designer Gert Leufert in
1952. From 1953 onwards they lived together in the relative isolation of the small
village Tarma, about an hours drive away from Caracas. There, Gego was able to
create her first works and develop an artistic routine. During the same time she took
on officially, the name Gego.

1955 Gego returned for the first time to Germany. She and Leufert were included in a
group show with the title Venezolanische Impressionen at the Gallery Wolfgang
Gurlitt in Munich. Gego showed a series of collages and prints.

1957 Gego made important contacts within Caracas artistic circles, among them
prominently the former Los Disidentes and now emerging Cinetismo artists
Alejandro Otero, Mateo Manaure, Jess Rafael Soto and Carlos Cruz-Dez. She
participated in the group show Arte Abstracto in Venezuela. Gego began working
three-dimensionally and in the following years focused on the production of small-
scale welded metal pieces.

1958 End of the Prez Jimenz regime. Rmulo Betancourt was elected president and
during the following decade the Socialist Party, Accin Democratica continued to
govern with a democratically elected parliament. Gego began teaching at the
Escuela de Artes Plsticas y Aplicadas in Caracas.

1960 One-year stay in New York where Gego worked in the printing medium and
sculpture. She made important contacts within New York gallery circles and was
included in the group show Recent Sculpture at the Betty Parsons Gallery. The
Museum of Modern Art acquired Sphere (1959) for its permanent collection. Gego
met Naum Gabo and Joseph Albers but contacts did not continue.

1961 Gego took on full-time teaching responsibilities as head of the Basic Composition
Workshop, at the Faculty of Architecture of the Universidad Central de Venezuela.
She contributed to the development of a Basics Design course modelled on
Johannes Ittens Bauhaus Vorkurs.

1962 Gego installed her first large-scale sculpture inside the Banco Industrial de Caracas.

1963 She returned to New York from where she travelled on to Great Britain, Germany
and Switzerland in order to conduct research commissioned by the Universidad
Central de Venezuela. Her brief was to visit design schools in Europe and gain
insight into their pedagogic programme.

1964 Gego began teaching at the newly-founded Instituto de Diseo, Fundacin
Neumann-INCE in Caracas.

1965 Sphere was included in the Responsive Eye exhibition at the Museum of Modern
Art in New York.

1966 For three months Gego stayed as a fellow at the Tamarind printing workshop near
Los Angeles.

1968 Raphael Caldera, leader of the Christian Democratic Party (COPEI) was elected
Venezuelan president.

1969 Creation of the first Reticulrea at the Museo de Bellas Artes in Caracas. In the
same year she was invited to install a second version of her Reticulrea at the
Centre for Inter-American Relations in New York.

1970 Gego showed recent works at the gallery Conkright in Caracas and a series of
drawings at the Graphics Gallery in San Francisco. In the same year Gego had an
important solo exhibition at the Betty Parsons Gallery in New York in which she
showed a highly expressive series of Chorros.

1971 Beginning of construction of an extension to the Galera de Arte Nacional designed
by Carlos Ral Villanueva.

1973 Founding of the Museo de Arte Contemporneo in Caracas. Inauguration of the
Museo de Arte Moderno Jess Soto in Ciudad Bolvar.

1974 Carlos Andrs Prez of the socialist Accin Democratica (AD) was elected
president of Venezuela.

1976 Gego began work on her important series Dibujos sin papel. She would continue to
create small-scale objects until the end of her productive life around 1990.

1977 Gego had her major retrospective show at the Museo de Arte Contemporneo in

1982 Gego was invited by Dietrich Mahlow to take part in the exhibition Spielraum-
Raumspiele held at the Alte Oper in Frankfurt, Germany. She installed her largest
ever Reticulrea in the Liszt Salon of the newly restored nineteenth-century opera

1994 Gego died at the age of 82 in Caracas.
Chronology Jess Soto

1923 Jess Rafael Soto was born in Ciudad Bolvar in Venezuela as the son of a
musician and a housewife, both from working class backgrounds. He earns his first
money as a poster painter for the local cinema.

1942 Soto received a small bursary and moved to Caracas to study painting at the
Escuela de Artes Plasticas y Artes Aplicadas. There he makes first contact with the
artists Alejandro Otero and Carlos Cruz-Dez who are among those attending
regular meetings and discussions at the Taller Libre de Arte.

1947 Soto became director of the Escuela de Artes Plasticas, Maracaibo.

1948 Coup d'Etat and beginning of a ten-year dictatorship under General Marcos Prez
Jimnez. An enormous architectural modernisation programme of the capital
Caracas started in 1946 and was promoted most aggressively during the next

1949 Soto presents his work for the first time to the public in an exhibition held at the
TallerLibre de Arte

1950 With the help of a small state bursary Soto made the all important move to Paris,
initially with the idea to stay there for one year. He was part of a group of
Venezuelan exile artists and writers, Los Disidentes but soon made contact with
European artists. He encounters the abstract paintings of Piet Mondrian and
Kazimir Malevitch as well as of contemporary artists working in an abstract

1952 Soto settled permanently in Paris. In Venezuela, Carlos Ral Villanueva launched
the important Proyectode Integracin de las Artes at the Universidad Central de
Caracas. This would include works by Alexander Calder, Antoine Pevsner, Henri
Laurens, Jean Arp, Victor Vasarely and of many of the former Disidentes artists,
now returned to Caracas. Among them are Alejandro Otero, Mateo Manaure,
Pascual Navarro and Carlos Gonzles Bogen.

1954 Soto met Jean Tinguely at the Salon des Ralites Nouvelles. Denise Ren and
Victor Vasarely noticed his work for the first time.

1955 Soto work was included in the exhibition Le mouvement held at the Galerie
Denise Ren in Paris. This important group show included works by Jean Arp,
August Herbin, Sophie Tuber-Arp, Marcel Duchamp, Alexander Calder and those
of a younger generation, Victor Vasarely, Jean Tinguely and Pol Bury.

1956 Soto had his first solo exhibition in Europe at the Galerie Denise Ren. It officially
launched Sotos career. The works on show were result of an intense time of
exploration in which Soto observed perceptual problems of abstract-constructivist
systems. Around this time he developed a formal vocabulary focusing on repetition
toward properly kinetic works by making use simultaneously, of more effects and
movement of the spectator. Sotos worked in close contact with Victor Vasarely,
Yacoov Agam, Jean Tinguely and Julio Le Parc.

1957 Soto had prepared a model for a sculpture to be integrated into the Proyectode
Integracin de las Artes at the Universidad Central de Caracas. However, in
protest against the Jimnez dictatorship, he pulled out of the competition and the
work was not realised.

1958 End of the Prez Jimenz regime. Rmulo Betancourt was elected president and
during the following decade the Socialist Party, Accin Democratica continued to
govern with a democratically elected parliament. In France, Gnral Charles de
Gaulle was elected head of state and the Fifth French Republic founded. Soto
created his first Vibracin in a painting of startlingly informel quality.

1959-61 Soto created his series of Leos, sculptural objects in which he combined the raw
materiality of Nouveau Ralisme with the recently discovered Vibracin effect.

1961 Soto abandoned his experiments with matire and returned to a radically abstract
vocabulary, integrating however, from now onwards kinetic elements and
Vibracin effects into his work. First collaboration with the German artist group
ZERO and close contact to Yves Klein.

1968 During May and June, France was shaken by violent riots and workers strikes in
Paris and across the country. De Gaulle and his authoritarian rule were severely
criticised, which led to his resignation in the following year. Soto showed his work
in an exhibition at the Kunsthalle in Bern, Switzerland. In Venezuela, Raphael
Caldera, leader of the Christian Democratic Party (COPEI) was elected Venezuelan

1969 Soto was able to install a large Penetrable at the Muse dArt Moderne de la Ville
de Paris, and it became an instant critical success. From this date onwards Soto was
able to widely exhibit his work in Europe, the United States and in Venezuela.
Among the museums staging solo shows of his work were the Museum of
Contemporary Art, Chicago (1971) and the Solomon R Guggenheim Museum in
New York (1974), and Sotos prestige and international acclaim continued to grow.
Georges Pompidou was elected French president.
1971 Beginning of construction of an extension to the Galera de Arte Nacional designed
by Carlos Ral Villanueva.

1972 Soto opened a second studio in Caracas and from this point onwards lived and
worked alternating between Paris and Venezuela.

1973 Founding of the Museo de Arte Contemporneo in Caracas. The Museo de Arte
Moderno Jess Soto in Ciudad Bolvar opens to the public. Founded by a decree of
the Bolvar State Government in 1969, the Museo was designed by Carlos Ral
Villanueva and inaugurated on August 25, 1973. The Museo de Arte Moderno was
the fulfilment of an idea brought forward by Soto first at the end of the 1950s. The
collection includes works by Jean Arp, Johanes Itten, Kazimir Malevitch, Man Ray,
Serge Poliakoff, Max Bill, Lucio Fontana, Alejandro Otero, Carlos Cruz-Dez,
Franois Morellet, Jean Tinguely, Yves Klein, Daniel Spoerri, and many more.

1974 Carlos Andrs Prez of the socialist Accin Democratica (AD) was elected
president of Venezuela. In France, Valry Giscard DEstaing was elected French
president. Although, the formal elements of Sotos artistic concept were now in
place he continued to expand his influence and developed his career until well into
the nineties. During the following three decades his works were integrated, in
uncounted variations, into the architectural spaces of public and private institutions
around the world.

1981 The socialist Franois Mitterrand was elected French president. He would govern
until 1995 when he was followed by the conservative Jacques Chirac.

1997 Exhibition Soto at the Galerie nationale du jeu de paume in Paris. This event was
accompanied by the publication of the important catalogue Soto with contributions
by Arnauld Pierre, Daniel Abadie, Franoise Bonnefoy, Sarah Clement and Isabelle
Sauvage. The art historian Arnauld Pierres chronology, describing in great detail
the development of Sotos oeuvre, represents today the most exhaustive biography
of the artist.

2005 Soto died, 82 years of age, on January 14 in Paris.

This thesis provides an art historical account of the oeuvres of two Venezuelan artists, Gego
(Gertrud Luise Goldschmidt, 1912-1994) and Jess Soto (1923-2005). The material gathered for
this project was selected from two vast art historical fields. First, Arte Abstracto and Cinetismo
produced in Venezuela and second, French post-war Geometric Abstraction and Cintisme. My
historical frame was provided by the political, social and economic developments in Venezuela,
France and Germany from c.1945 to 1990. The choices made during this project were subject to
methodological requirements and the theoretical aims of this thesis. It follows a more or less
chronological approach but does not seek to provide a full or systematic account of the period as a
whole. It is a selective account of the life and oeuvres of these two artists and consciously gives
emphasis only to issues and problems particular to post-war geometric abstract art.
My aim was to establish the links between European post-war modernism and a particular
type of Venezuelan abstract art of the same period. It was not my intention to present an exhaustive
study on Venezuelan art after 1945. I was writing from the perspective of my European formation
and recognised in this very perspective one of the fundamental problems inherent to writing
Venezuelan art history. The discipline was founded in Europe and many of its basic assumptions
and aesthetic categories, which had been defined within the historical context of Europe, Germany
primarily, have little meaning when applied to a country such as Venezuela. For this very reason I
decided to focus my attention on two artists familiar with a European intellectual and cultural
history and in particular, with the situation in post-war France and Germany. My analysis of the
work of Gego and Jess Soto has a common denominator in their referencing of pre-war European
abstraction and I was interested to show that a certain re-evaluation and secondary revision of pre-
war modernism took place in both oeuvres.
This study began after the encounter with the oeuvre of Gego, a woman artist who had for
some time been neglected and only in the mid-nineties was rediscovered in the context of an
American feminist exhibition.
I was struck by the similarity that I detected between Gegos post-
war work, produced in exile in Venezuela, and a European aesthetic indebted to the early Bauhaus
and the German Weimar period. Research confirmed my speculations and in the course of the next
five years I found myself immersed in the complex field of the continuities and discontinuities
between pre-war and post-war abstract art. My research followed a simple trajectory. Taking cues
from Gegos and Jess Sotos biography I moved from Weimar Germany to Venezuela in the
fifties, sixties and seventies and back again to France and finally, to Germany in the early eighties.
Gego especially had caught my attention due to the psychological complexity of her artistic
identity. Gego was born Gertrud Luise Goldschmidt into a German-Jewish family in Hamburg. In
1939 she emigrated from Germany to Caracas in Venezuela, where she died in 1994. In the first
chapter I provide an account of her early life and exile, for which I was able to draw from a primary
source, her autobiographical account composed in 1987.
However, I wish to note in this
introduction that, despite the fact that I return to Gego at given moments throughout my thesis it
cannot be called a monographic project. While Gego remained the axis around which my narrative
evolved, other figures took centre stage at times and, in particular Jess Soto, acquired the
important function of an emotional and theoretical counter-point. Jess Soto was born in Ciudad

See Rina Carvajal, 'GEGO: Weaving the Margins', Inside the Visible: The Elliptical Traverse of 20th
Century Art in, of, and from the Feminine, exhibition catalogue, Catherine M. de Zegher (ed.), MIT Press,
Cambridge Massachusetts, 1996, pp. 341-45.
Gedanken ber Herkunft+Begegnungen als Entwicklung meines Lebensweges, Mara Elena Huizi and
Josephina Manrique, Sabiduras and other texts by Gego, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston and Fundacin
Gego, Caracas, 2005, pp. 240-44.
Bolvar in Venezuela and, in 1950, he moved to Paris, where he died in 2005. In his case I relied
largely on the biographical account written in 2001 by the French art historian Arnauld Pierre.

Gegos and Sotos biographies challenged me into finding interpretations of both artists work that
took into account the circumstances of their life in exile. For this reason, I addressed in all three
chapters social, political and philosophical issues that I consider crucial to the development of the
post-war societies of Venezuela and France. Broadly speaking, the careers of the artists discussed in
this thesis began during the period of utopian post-war modernism in the 1950s.
During this period,
the expansion of abstract art, beyond the gallery and the museum spaces, into the field of
architecture became particularly strong in newly developing economies, such as Venezuelas.
chapter I, I introduced aspects of Venezuelan post-war art history, which have been neglected in the
still very limited literature on the subject of Venezuelan art and architecture.
Here, public art
collections and private galleries had generated a modernist taste that led to vibrant exchanges
between the cultural, political and financial elite of Venezuela and the French artistic milieu. From
the early fifties onwards it was primarily French Geometric Abstraction and Cintisme that exerted
enormous influence on artistic production and art critical discourses in Caracas.

Arnauld Pierre, Chronologie, Soto, exhibition catalogue, Galerie nationale du Jeu de Paume, Le Seuil,
Paris, 1997. pp. 177-224.
I have chosen to use the lower case spelling for modernism throughout my text in order to distinguish it
from an aesthetic and purely stylistic application of the term. In those cases, where I wish to tie it directly to
the post-war period and hence distinguish it from this more general application, implying the new or
progressive or even a social dynamic that took its beginning with the French Revolution, I made this clear by
using the construction post-war modernism.
In Europe public sculpture had became fully integrated into modernist architectural spaces after the Second
World War. A law, introduced in most European countries, made it compulsory for a private or state
enterprise to spend of a new buildings total budget 1 % on public art.
Today, perhaps the most comprehensive and insightful history of architecture in Latin America is Valerie
Frasers, Building the New World, Verso, London, 2000. It is indispensable as an introduction and
sourcebook for studies on the Venezuelan cultural and artistic context.
Turning to France in chapter II, I took issue foremost with the claim that Geometric
Abstraction represented a universal language which, for reasons I have elucidated, had great appeal
for artists working in the post-war period. In Europe the non-subjective anonymity of abstract art
allowed for fast adaptation to rapidly changing political and social landscapes. It reflected also the
political ambitions of Socialist and Communist intellectuals, first among them Jean-Paul Sartre,
Simone De Beauvoir and Maurice Merleau-Ponty. Their writings allowed me to introduce
theoretical issues of French Existentialism embedded within a wider historical context of post-war
France. Clearly, their thoughts also informed my methodology employed during this project. By
giving a prominent place to biographical detail and historical context I went against the grain of
Marxist discourses that favour strict object analysis. It appeared to me important, especially in the
case of two artists who worked from the fifties onwards in an abstract manner, to explore their
understanding of and relation to the historical object. I took as granted that their knowledge of the
world was also consciousness of it. By this I mean to say also, that both oeuvres were to me more
than the material product of Gegos and Sotos labour. These works were produced with the use of a
reflective consciousness that goes beyond merely empirical experience or knowledge of ideas. Jean-
Paul Sartre described this consciousness in terms of a situated negativity. To him this negative
consciousness is a moment of praxis and a pure relation between objects (choses). Subjectivity, so
he wrote, is neither everything nor nothing; it represents one moment of the objective process.

In the following thesis I will suggest that discourses around the status of the historical
object became crucial for the formulation of different post-modern aesthetic trends. Pre-war abstract
art found a post-war re-incarnation in the form of Geometric Abstraction. The problematic
continuity between Geometric Abstraction and a pre-war historical avant-garde is addressed
throughout my thesis from the perspective of its later rejection during the generational conflicts of
the late sixties. Loss of the art objects autonomy and the revolt against bourgeois society were part

Jean-Paul Sartre, Critique de la raison dialectique, Questions de mthode, Gallimard, coll. Bibliothque de
philosophie, Paris, 1985, p. 31. First published Gallimard, Paris, 1960.
of broader developments within post-war French culture. Thus, Left politics and its significance for
the establishment of French abstract art is a second narrative strand by way of which I develop
understanding for the strong cultural links between France and Venezuela.
My account gives evidence also of the anachronistic and of historical discontinuities within
post-war French and Venezuelan cultures. They appeared strongly expressed in Sotos oeuvre,
where I observed a development from the ephemeral and purely optical, via a violent engagement
with matire, towards a synthetic aestheticism manifest especially in his large-scale sculptures of
the late seventies and the eighties. In Cintisme Soto brought Geometric Abstractions purist
tendencies and its problematic claim to neutrality and universalism to culmination. My analysis of
Sotos work highlights that French abstract art of the post-war decades excluded and marginalised
forms of expression that lie outside its reductive aesthetic paradigm. Here, I focus on the relation
between French abstract art and the latent misogyny, homophobia and racism of French post-war
One of the main arguments of my thesis is to propose that Cinetismo, Cintisme and
Bauhaus revisionism, under which I categorise Gegos oeuvre, represented a self-conscious
reflection on the avant-gardes of the pre-war period.
Especially those sections focusing on Gegos

The term avant-garde has acquired in the post-war period a complex meaning referring, both to the historical
avant-gardes of the first half of the century, Futurism, Constructivism, Dadaism and Surrealism and post-war
artists working within an avant-garde genealogy. It may imply the idea of most advanced or reformist,
which were meanings used particularly, in the French post-war context until the mid-sixties. Clearly, Nouveau
Ralisme made reference to its other meanings which are anti-traditional or anti-bourgeois. In the German
context it became particularly important during post-war discourses on normative aesthetics. It was there
more likely understood in reaction to a brutal functionalism which assigns to the art object mere exchange
value. In 1970, the German philosopher T. W. Adorno (1903-1969) defended the autonomy and quasi
uselessness of the art object, in which he also recognised its truth value. This in turn came under attack, in
1974, from the German philosopher Peter Brger (b. 1936), who wrote an important critique of Adornos
bourgeois aesthetic. His critique was defining for the theorisation of the neo-avant-garde which sought to fuse
art and life-praxis and thus deprive the art object of its fetishistic character. See Theodor W. Adorno,
Aesthetic Theory, translation C. Lenhart, Routledge & Kegan, London, 1984; Aesthetische Theorie,
work emphasise the recreation of Weimar culture and Bauhaus pedagogy as a constant theme. This
enabled the artist to take a perspective of emotional distance and expressed a trend toward
conceptuality, a modality that we now call post-modern, in which the ironic, the parodic and the
schizoid prevail.
I claim that the oeuvres of both artists, Gego and Soto, were at certain moments of
their careers inauthentic in the sense that the artists no longer located meaning in the material object
but instead purported to convey subjectivity and authoritarian voice by miming the social space
absolutely. This gives me good reason to counter interpretations of Gegos and Sotos oeuvres that
seek to establish a radical opposition between their artistic aims. While it is true that their paths
digressed from c.1970 onwards, the articulation of a sense of distance to the historical object is
inherent to both oeuvre and, as I hope to show, directly related to their biographies, the social and
historical circumstances of their life and their experience of exile.
Here, it seems important to articulate the distinction between two interpretative levels on
which works of art, abstract or figurative, can be discussed. First, Gegos and Sotos work can be
understood as material objects carrying in their experience highly individual contents and, second,
their oeuvres may be taken as part of the discourses within their respective social and cultural
contexts. In the following I will demonstrate that in both cases, Gegos and Sotos, abstraction
signified not only personal distance to the historical object but also their consent to the existing
political and social structures of Venezuela and France. Thus, the deliberately strong fusion of

Gesammelte Schriften, 2d ed., Vol 7, Suhrkamp Verlag, Frankfurt am Main, 1972; and Peter Brger, Theory
of the Avant-Garde, translation Michael Shaw, Manchester University Press, Manchester, 1984; Theorie der
Avantgarde, Suhrkamp Verlag, Frankfurt am Main, 1974.
Two key texts of post-modern theory are, Jean-Franois Lyotard, The postmodern condition: a report on
knowledge, translation Geoff Bennington and Brian Massumi, Manchester University Press, Manchester,
1984. Originally published as, La condition postmoderne: rapport sur le savoir, ditions de Minuit, Paris,
1979; And, Fredric Jameson, Postmodernism, or, The cultural logic of late capitalism, Verso, London and
New York, 1991.

abstract works of art with applied arts, where the claim for authenticity is relinquished, produces a
nucleus of complex ethical questions that concern the inter-action between producers and
consumers of art. Abstract arts muteness expresses not only the producers but also the spectators
ambivalent feelings towards a problematic past and their quasi contractual consent to silence critical
voices. However, it would be counter-productive to reduce post-war abstraction to its symptomatic
or reactionary aspects. For this reason, I have made great efforts to create not only a nuanced
understanding for the period but also for the aesthetic values and concerns of this field of artistic
It needs to be noted that many problems that arise in discussions of this period in Venezuela
- and in France - are hinged around the massive influence of architectural modernism and town
planning. For instance, the often-catastrophic collaboration of European architects with the political
and economic elites in Latin America or the increasingly bureaucratic town planning in France.
Similarly, the introduction in Venezuela of an abstract aesthetic trend, Cintisme, would be
explicable as primarily a symptom of an uninhibited European art market with interest in oil-rich
Venezuela. Such overtly economic and political analyses, I have sought to counter with highly
individualistic interpretations of Gegos and of Sotos oeuvres. Especially, I sought to create
understanding for the psychological mechanisms at play in the experience of exile.
Both artists
were engaged, at different times, in experimental projects that challenged them into facing complex
personal questions and triggered intimate processes of mourning. Thus, in chapter III, I consider

I have chosen this term in order to imply a state of existence in which a radical rupture has occurred from
what is thought of as home. Neither Gego nor Soto can be described as being part of a Diaspora because
both rejected, to some degree, a nationalistic or ethnically defined belonging. Both artists were essentially
singular figures and foreigners. Probably the best introduction to the theme of exile is Edward W. Saids essay
Reflections on Exile. The very first lines of this text give an inkling of what will be, among other things, the
subject of this thesis. Said writes, Exile is strangely compelling to think about but terrible to experience. It is
the unhealable rift forced between a human being and a native place, between the self and its true home; its
essential sadness can never be surmounted, Reflections on Exile, Reflections on Exile, Granta Books,
London, 2000, p. 173.
Gegos strong tendency to rational abstraction and introspection from the perspective of her
essential foreignness. Gegos writings and testimony gathered from the circles around her give
evidence of a marked split between her private and public persona. I show that the architectural
monumentality of her early works, informed by references to a German aesthetic gave way only
very slowly, in a painful process of separation, to intimate structures that capture the imagination
with their strongly integrated expression of materiality. I argue further that a changing political
climate in Venezuela encouraged her to develop a pronounced individualism and led to the adoption
of an increasingly self-reflective artistic practice.
In contrast, in chapter II, I argue that Sotos response to exile was far more in tune with the
transformations within French society as a whole. I propose that in Europe men of the post-war
generation compensated for the violent nationalism of the previous generation with an emphasis on
anonymity and exclusion of the foreign. Broadly speaking, the exclusion of the other is the theme
also of chapter III. To address this issue seemed particularly important in a research project
concerned with the oeuvre of two artists who were both working and living in exile and who
considered themselves sometimes more, sometimes less, as foreigners. For this reason I devoted a
large proportion of my thesis to questions of identity formation in exile and the effects of historical
and cultural ruptures. In the case of Gego, these issues are linked to the question of the traumatic
effect of pre-war anti-Semitism, enforced exile and, beyond it, to Holocaust memorisation in France
and Germany.

In this project it is important to mark, from the beginning, a clear distinction between discourses around
political exile and migrs, and Jewish exile in the Nazi period. As Jutta Vinzent writes in her recently
published book, Exile is a topic that plays an important role in the rapidly expanding field of postcolonial
studies. The postcolonial discourse was triggered off historically by the move of Asians and Africans to
Europe and America in the 1960s. These generations of migrants settling in the West reinforced an active
consciousness, resulting in theoretical reflections on migration by scholars such as Homi K. Bhabha, Edward
Said and Gayatri Spivak [] any comparison of the postcolonial debate on race and ethnicity with the Nazi
construction of race is [] highly problematic, Jutta Vinzent, Identity and Image: Refugee artists from Nazi
Germany in Britain (1933-1946), Schriften der Guernica Gesellschaft, Weimar, 2006.
I propose that in the 1980s temporal distance from the traumatic events of the Second
World War and the Holocaust created anxieties of loss. In this socio-historical vacuum, narcissistic
identification with figures and images of the past became crucial for the redefinition of national
identities. This was linked directly to the cultural and political debates of this period, which focused
in France and in Germany on Jewish identity and the revision of the history of the Holocaust. While
discourses of the immediate post-war years used a defensive strategy that excluded troubling
fantasies of rupture and violence, in the eighties, images of violence and death came back to haunt
the imagination of Europeans. In order to address these issues from the perspective of Jewish post-
war identity, I have taken recourse to the writings of two French cultural analysts. The first is the
philosopher Alain Finkielkraut (b. 1949). The second is Pierre Birnbaum, professor of political
science at the Universit Paris I, Pantheon-Sorbonne. Their writings from the eighties and nineties
allowed me to carry questions of identity into the wider political context and propose that in a
French or Francophile culture, the terms of identity are always defined by contemporary discourses
around assimilation. Since the eighteenth century, Jews as well as non-Jewish foreigners identifying
with the ideals of the French Revolution, favouring sameness over difference, assimilated and
acquired citizenship in strong state structures. Thus, republicanism and the ideal of anonymous
citizenship became important topic in my discussion of the ideological links between France and
Venezuela and crucially, it allowed me to establish a parallel in Gegos and Sotos biographies and
suggest a direct relation to their choice of working in an abstract manner.
The final section of chapter III is devoted entirely to an exhibition held in 1982 in Frankfurt
am Main to which Gego and Soto were invited to contribute. Spielraum-Raumspiele took place
only a few years before the outbreak of the German Historikerstreit which announced the radical
transformations of the late eighties and led, in Germany, to the construction of a national identity
demonstrating narcissistic wholeness. In this exhibition the signs of a flagging artistic avant-garde
coincided with the visual elements of a sharp Right turn within German politics and culture. The
event gives me occasion to contrast Gegos work produced in exile in Venezuela with the artistic
production of artists working in an increasingly conservative climate in Europe.

1.1 Gego in Germany and Exile
Gertrud Luise Goldschmidt was born in Hamburg, near the Northern coast of Germany, shortly
before the First World War in 1912. Her family was Jewish and belonged to the liberal upper
middle-class circles of the town, having made their fortune as merchant bankers since the late
nineteenth century. (Fig. 1 Gego with her sister Elisabeth, Hamburg, c.1920) Jewish religion had,
according to Gego, little effect on the familys everyday lifestyle
, which was not unusual during
the Wilhelmine period when many Jews were completely integrated into Protestant German
Gego was the sixth of seven children and in her short autobiography she gives evidence of

I had never been in a synagogue or in a Jewish temple and of anti-Semitism I learned only very late. (My
translation). In the original, Ich bin nie in einer Synagoge oder Tempel der Jdischen Gemeinde gewesen +
habe vom Antisemitismus erst sehr spt erfahren. Gego made this statement in an autobiographical text
written as a response to an enquiry by Professor Frithjof Trapp of the University in Hamburg. The German
academic had approached Gego with a questionnaire that formed part of a research project entitled Exile and
Emigration of Hamburg Jews. It was published for the first time and, according to the editors, in its most
complete version in 2005. Gedanken ber Herkunft + Begegnungen als Entwicklung meines Lebensweges,
Mara Elena Huizi and Josephina Manrique, Sabiduras and other texts by Gego, Museum of Fine Arts,
Houston and Fundacin Gego, Caracas, 2005. Spanish and English translations, as well as the original
German version, are reproduced on pages 226-44.
Our Jewish origin was a known fact but we fully belonged to the German community: into the tradition of
German and Hamburg culture (My translation). In the original, Jdische Herkunft war als Tatsache bekannt,
aber wir gehrten damit vllig und ganz in die Gemeinschaft Deutschlands: in die Tradition Deutscher +
Hamburgischer Kultur. Huizi and Manrique, Sabiduras, p. 240.
her enjoyment of a happy childhood in the folds of the extended Goldschmidt family
, which at
that time formed part of the social fabric of Hamburg.

As a young child Gego received private schooling, a decision taken by her parents after she
proved to be too fragile and sensitive to continue attending a state school. Maybe not surprising but
I was told that in later years, she turned into a bit of a rebel.
As a teenager she was evidently
very awake to the social and cultural transformations taking place at the time. This included a
certain inversion of traditional gender roles manifested, for instance, in Gegos refusal to enter a
Mdchenschule, a girls college or finishing school. Instead, she made the unusual choice to study,
for three years, with a captain of the merchant fleet and instructor at the naval college in order to
become a woman sea captain. She graduated in 1932. Gego, her artistic name, can be traced back
to around the same period. It came out of a game in which she and her older sister Hanna (1909-
1977) shortened their full names - Gertrude Goldschmidt and Hanna Goldschmidt -to GEGO and
Fostered by her liberal and highly cultured parents Gego was very awake to the artistic

Her uncle was the medievalist Adolph Goldschmidt (1863-1944) who had, like his close friend Aby
Warburg (1866-1929) decided to study art history rather than follow the family tradition and become a
banker. In 1911 he followed Heinrich Wlfflin (1831-1903) in his position as professor at the University in
Berlin. After the imposition of the Nuremberg Laws most members of the Goldschmidt family left Germany.
However, not until Jewish academics were denied access to libraries and archives could Adolph Goldschmidt
be convinced to take the same step. Only months before the outbreak of the war, in April 1939, did he
abandon Germany and move to Basel in Switzerland, where he died in an accident in 1944.
The Warburgs, parents of Aby Warburg were close friends of the family and their contacts continued after
emigration from Germany to the United States and England.
Noted during an interview between the author and Susanne and Hans Meyer, husband of Hanna
Goldschmidt (Kent, England, November, 2004). Gego confirmed this in her autobiographical text, Later, I
was sent to the private school of Margarethe Mittell at the Graumannsweg, where I gradually developed into
an enfant terrible with own opinions and a certain tendency to opposition. (My translation). In the original,
Spter wurde ich in die Privatschule von Margarethe Mittell am Graumannsweg geschickt wo ich mich
langsam mit einer Neigung zum enfant terrible entwickelt habe, mit eigenem [sic] Meinungen und gewisser
Opposition. Huizi and Manrique, Sabiduras, p. 241.
I was given this information during the interview with Susanne and Hans Meyer, Kent, November, 2004.
dynamism of the Weimar period. It is confirmed again in her autobiography where she wrote, My
interest for and the engagement with the fine arts had been developed and encouraged early on. The
interest in architecture came later, in part motivated by sociological ideas on the development,
during this time, of social housing projects. (My translation).

A brief interruption of my account for some explanatory remarks and general historical information
seems appropriate at this point. First, since the late nineteenth and during the euphoric first years of
the new century leading up to the First World War, an unprecedented number of Jews abandoned
their religion and cultural traditions in the hope to gain easier access to a highly dynamic German
society and economy. Parts of the Jewish community were motivated by a wholehearted patriotism
and wish to be fully acknowledged and integrated as Germans.
Second, many Jews supported Germanys war effort and only after the defeat in 1919 and
again in the thirties began to loom large the awareness that the reactionary right-wing populism
might eventually turn against them. In the meantime, the social changes that Gego had mentioned in
reference to the development of socialist architecture were part of Weimar cultures openness and
dynamism supported by many Jewish intellectuals, artists and left-wing politicians.
While some

Mein Interesse + Beschftingung mit bildender Kunst ist frh entwickelt + gefrdert worden. Architektur-
Interesse kam spter, teilweise angeregt durch soziale Gedanken ber die damals sich entwickelnden sozialen
Bauunternehmen. Huizi and Manrique, Sabiduras, p. 241.
The term Jewish Renaissance, was first introduced by Martin Buber in 1900 describing the resurrection of
the Jewish people from partial life to full life. Buber and the philosopher Franz Rosenzweig became crucial
for a reawakening of Jewish culture during the twenties and thirties in which Jewishness was defined by way
of cultural belonging rather than ethnicity. The historian of Jewish culture Michel Brenner writes, The
process of establishing a distinct Jewish sphere in various cultural branches was expressed by a discourse
whose basic patterns were taken over from the larger German society and transformed into a distinctly Jewish
context. Those patterns were the quest for community, the synthesis of knowledge, and the search for
authenticity. Based on the contemporary German pursuit of a genuine Gemeinschaft (community) as opposed
to Gesellschaft (society), German Jews believed that they needed to strengthen their sense of community in
order to revitalize Jewish culture. True culture, they asserted, could be created only by men and women who
writers and artists sent out warning signals against fascism in the twenties and thirties the larger part
of the Jewish population held on to blind optimism well into the late thirties, that is, even after
Hitler had been elected Reichskanzler in 1933. Unprecedented technological advancement,
availability of consumer goods and a vibrant cultural atmosphere especially, in cultural centres such
as Berlin, blinded many Jews to the intensifying threats to their community.
Thirdly, German imperialism had been at its height around the turn of the century and
colonialism had its fullest expansion. This is important to note not only in respect to Gegos place
of exile but also to her eccentric wish, as a teenager, to become a sea captain.
Venezuela had never been a German colony it is highly plausible that the Goldschmidt family had
as merchant bankers already established business and even family links with Venezuela. In fact,
during Gegos youth, a direct shipping line existed between the free-port of Hamburg and La
Guaira, the port nearest to Caracas. Gegos choice of a Latin American over a United States
location for exile is explicable by way of these cultural links. Several elements with references in
Gegos youth combine here: Hamburg, the exotic, Venezuela, a masculine role, rebellion, sea-
captain. One wonders whether exile in Caracas does not in a highly complex way realise a dream
that already existed in Gegos childhood fantasy. Later she countered any suggestions ever to have

were deeply anchored in the common ground of the Gemeinschaft. Once such a community was established,
its members had to acquire basic knowledge about its traditions and values. This realisation proved especially
important for German Jews alienated from Judaism. Reflecting the calls of the time for a coherent
presentation of knowledge, they created institutions of learning and publications that would transmit a
comprehensive and all-inclusive knowledge of Jewish matters. The Jewish cultural renaissance was not
content to spread theoretical knowledge but promoted an allegedly authentic Judaism, just as German society
propagated genuine forms of culture, as opposed to what was conceived as the decadent and superficial
civilization of the modern Western world. Michael Brenner, The Renaissance of Jewish Culture in Weimar
Germany, Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 1996, p. 6.
During the late nineteenth century the German colonies acquired an important role, in German literature
and society, as symbols for masculine domination. However, Russel A. Berman argues that it provided
simultaneously the literary spaces for fantasies of gender inversions and therefore, the stage for feminist
had the desire to live in Latin America despite the fact that she had turned down a second offer for a
visa from the Australian authorities in favour of Venezuela. I had never thought of Latin America
as a final destination. My French was poor, my Spanish and Italian nonexistent. (My translation).

However, this sentence written fifty years after the event might well demonstrate the mechanism of
denial whereby a disappointment is retrospectively described in terms of a rupture in historical
continuity. Gegos sense of estrangement, which she links to her inability to speak any of the
languages spoken in Venezuela, could clearly only develop after her arrival in exile.

After 1935, following the imposition of the Nrnberger Judengesetze which restricted the life of
Jews to an intolerable degree, many Jewish families left Germany. Gegos sister Hanna had been
living in the South of England since 1931 but only as late as 1938 did her brother Martin and her
parents finally decide to join her. Gegos other siblings fled around the same time by different
routes. They had to endure tremendous hardship and even internment in a Concentration Camp and
found eventually new homes as far away as India, the United States and South Africa. Gego was
optimistic enough to continue her training as engineer and architect, begun in 1932 at the
prestigious Stuttgarter Technische Hochschule.
She excelled in her studies and became the
protge of Paul Bonatz (1877-1956), then a prominent architect representing the more traditional
modernism of the so-called Stuttgarter Schule. He had made himself a name with the design for the
Stuttgarter Hauptbahnhof, begun in 1914 and completed only in 1927. An impressive monumental

critique of Wilhelmine patriarchy. Russel A. Berman, Colonial Literature and the emancipation of Women,
Enlightenment or Empire, University of Nebraska Press, 1998, pp. 171-203.
Lateinamerica war mir nie als Ziel vorgeschwebt. Franzsisch sprach ich schlecht, Spanisch berhaupt
nicht, auch kein Italienisch. Huizi and Manrique, Sabiduras, p. 243.
The decision to study architecture was taken under the influence of befriended architecture students. Gego
wrote, During the last years at college I befriended students of architecture, who helped me in making the
decision to take up studies in Stuttgart. Which I did in the winter semester of 32/33. (My translation). In den
letzten Schuljahren war ich mit Architekturstudenten befreundet, die mir zum Entschluss, in Stuttgart zu
studieren, halfen. Was ich im Wintersemester 32/33 begann. Huizi and Manrique, Sabiduras, p. 241.
building, the Hauptbahnhof was at the time of completion already outdated and provoked Le
Corbusier (1887-1965) into calling it Wilhelminischer Pomp.
In the mid-twenties Bonatz acted
as a traditionalist force, representing Stuttgarts often anti-Semitic bourgeoisie in the controversy
over the commission of the Stuttgarter Weissenhof Siedlung. The Weissenhof Siedlung, opened to
the public in 1927, is a model housing estate that had been commissioned by the German
Werkbund, a socialist organisation that sought to represent the interests, not only of industrialists,
architects and crafts people but also of the modern working class family. It had been agreed early on
that Mies van der Rohe (1886-1969) should oversee the project. He was presented with a list of the
architects that should be invited to contribute to the Siedlung and among them was Paul Bonatz.
However, Mies dropped Bonatz from the list preferring instead more radically modernist architects.
It was the beginning of a tedious controversy which provoked Bonatz into describing the Siedlung
project as a heap of flat cubes, arranged in manifold horizontal terraces, [that] push narrowly
uncomfortably up the slope; the whole thing bears more resemblance to a suburb of Jerusalem than
a group of houses in Stuttgart.
The legend on a postcard of the Weissenhof Siedlung combines its
name with the term Araberdorf (village of Arabs). This illustrates that Bonatz association of the
Siedlung with the foreign and outlandish expressed the sentiment of at least part of Stuttgarts

In a pompous style reminding of the Wilhelmine period. Helmut Heissenbttel, Stuttgarter Architektur,
Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt, Stuttgart, 1979, p. 180.
Quoted from Franz Schulze, Mies van der Rohe: A critical Biography, University of Chicago Press, 1985,
p. 134. We have no written evidence of Bonatz expressing publicly anti-Semitic views or of pursuing
explicitly anti-Jewish politics within the closely knit Stuttgarter community. Nonetheless, the above remark
permits at least speculation on his negative feelings towards Jewish influences in German culture. The
association of radical modernity with Jerusalem as symbol for the Jewish people goes back in Germany
etymology to the early nineteenth century. It manifested anxieties in part of the Prussian nobility over the
implementation of new laws according Jewish emancipation. The democratization of German society thus
coincided with the emergence of a paranoid projection of a Neumodischer Judenstaat (modern state of Jews)
or new Jerusalem while modern is used here in the sense of modish that is, as a passing trend. See Lon
Poliakov, Histoire de lantisemitisme, Tome 2, Lge de la science, Calmann-Lvy, Seuil, Paris, 1981, pp.
population. (Fig. 2 Postcard Weissenhofsiedlung, Araberdorf, Stuttgart, 1940) After months of
political quarrels, the Weissenhof Siedlung became the showcase for the most progressive architects
and designers at the time, Walter Gropius (1883-1969), Le Corbusier, Mies van der Rohe, Hans
Scharoun (1893-1972), Peter Behrens (1868-1940), Bruno Taut (1880-1938), among others. The
exhibition organisers aim was to invite architects to demonstrate their latest ideas on modern
housing, that is, living space that could be fabricated cheaply and in a minimum of time. The brief
was to propose affordable and highly functional accommodation for a fast growing lower middle-
class. Designs were based on the ideal family unit and many features incorporated progressive ideas
such as the emancipated working mother. For instance, kitchens were often fitted with modern
appliances and modelled on an American lifestyle with a preference for functionality over tradition.
Ornament was reduced to a minimum and the aesthetic applied to the interiors is reminiscent of the
work of avant-garde artists such as Theo Van Doesburgh (1883-1931) or Piet Mondrian. The
Weissenhof Siedlung exhibition was a watershed in the pre-war development of modernist
architecture and design. Its historical significance is in part due to its radical approach, high quality
and originality of the designs. More interesting in this context is that it brought to the fore
fundamental discontinuities between Weimar modernist architects and the older generation whose
ideals went back to the Wilhelmine era.

This has been demonstrated wonderfully in an exhibition held first at the Museum of Modern Art in New
York in 2001. Mies in Berlin focused on Mies van der Rohes pre-war development and career in Germany.
It was shown in several European museums and ended, in 2002, at the Whitechapel Art Gallery in London.
Mies in Berlin, exhibition catalogue, Terence Riley and Barry Bergdoll (eds.), Museum of Modern Art, New
York, 2001. In a recent exhibition held at the Victoria and Albert Museum in 2006, the curators had the
ambitious aim to provide an overview of the inter-war period and, within this historical frame, demonstrate a
linear development of early twentieth-century modernism. Its focus clearly was on architecture and applied
arts but its curators very effectively showed the inter-relation of artistic production and design for a mass
audience. Modernism, 1914-1939: designing a New World, Christopher Wilk, (ed.), essays by Christopher
Green, Christina Lodder, et al., Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 2006.
During the war, Bonatz worked as an engineer for the Third Reich and was involved in the
construction of the German Autobahn (German motorway) system. To his credit it must be said that
he had helped Gego and other Jews in escaping Nazi persecution. Bonatz, despite his conservative
tastes, harboured moderately socialist and liberal views and eventually courted trouble for
expressing his critical opinion of Hitlers policies. He was investigated by the police twice and
finally emigrated to Turkey in 1942.
Bonatz career is typical of many Germans who had been in
prominent positions before Hitlers election in 1933. Incapable of fully subscribing to Nazi doctrine
they were nonetheless unable to escape from the social pressures that immediately froze all
individualistic freedom.
Since the early thirties the Technische Hochschule had become increasingly a centre of
conservative nationalism and, from 1933 onwards, the schools syllabus included a compulsory
course in the doctrines of Nationalsozialismus.
It was seen as normal that young Nazi supporters

. Turkey was an attractive destination for Bonatz and many other Germans escaping from the Nazi regime.
Under the influence of the reformer Ataturk, the country had seen, since the early 1920s, the modernisation of
its political and social institutions. German researchers, architects, economists, philosophers and artists made
a strong contribution to the development of a modern Turkish state. The demand for highly qualified
architects allowed Bonatz and Bruno Taut among others, to remain active in exile. However, Bonatz first visit
to Turkey goes back to 1916. In a publication documenting his life in Turkey during and after the war we
learn that, Bonatz came to Turkey for the first time in 1916 to take part in the design competition for the
Turco-German Association Building in Istanbul. He is said to have been saved from arrest under the Third
Reich because of his popularity with the students there. In his book Inside the Third Reich [Albert] Speer
writes that he himself together with Fritz Todt (1891-1942) had protected Bonatz. He came back again in
1942 as a member of the jury for the competition to design the Ataturk Mausoleum as well as others such as
those for the Canakkale Monument and the Istanbul Radio House and Courts of Justice. In 1943 he was
appointed consulting architect to the Ministry of Education in Turkey. He was a lecturer in the Architectural
Faculty at Istanbul Technical University between 1946 and 1955 and took part in the restoration of the
Taskisla building where the Faculty was situated. A. Erktin, Paul Bonatz, Eczacibasi Sanat Ansiklopedisi, V.
1, Yapi-Endustri Merkezi-Publishers, Istanbul, 1997, p. 271.
Gego stated, The examination officer recommended that I exchange the compulsory indoctrination of
Nationalsozialismus with a course entitled English for Architects, which I attended together with a Swiss
student in the private rooms of the English tutor. (My translation). In the original, Der Prfungssekretr riet
held their meetings on the school grounds. From Gegos autobiographical notes we know that she
consciously distanced herself and that she avoided most social activities.
The resulting isolation
and outsider position was typical for many assimilated German Jews during the thirties. Most
certainly, Gego and her family followed the political developments with apprehension and
consciously or, perhaps, unconsciously concealed their Jewish identity. It is possible that Gego
maintained an illusory sense of safety for the simple reason that she had never thought of herself as
a Jew but always, first and foremost, as a German. Only in the days immediately after obtaining her
degree as Engineer and Architect, in August 1938, was she able to acknowledge fully the
precariousness of her position. The detailed description of her last meetings with Bonatz give
evidence of the deep trauma caused at this moment. She writes I suddenly realised that the floor
had been taken away from under my feet; + in order to prepare a career path for the future I
followed him [Bonatz] into his office, where we held the most impressive conversation. He didnt
even know of my 100% Jewish Abstammung
With his letters of recommendation in her

mir freundschaftlich, den obligatorischen Kolleg zur Indoktrination des Nationalsozialismus fr ein Fach
Englisch fr Architekten auszuwechseln, was ich mit einem Schweizer Studienkollegen in der
Privatwohnung des Lektors fr Englisch absolvierte. Huizi and Manrique, Sabiduras, p. 241.
During my studies I not once experienced an affront on the part of colleagues or professors although
admittedly, I avoided all extra-curricular activities.(My translation). In the original, Ich habe whrend der
der Studienzeit nicht ein einziges Mal einen Affront von seiten der Kollegen oder Proffessoren erlebt, bin
allerdings selber allen ausser akademischen Aktivitten aus dem Weg gegangen. Huizi and Manrique,
Sabiduras, p. 241.
The term means origin. Michael Brenner explains, Liberal Jews, though rejecting the concept of a Jewish
nation, also employed such ethnic terms as Abstammungsgemeinschaft (community of common descent) to
express their belonging to a Jewish Gemeinschaft. Michael Brenner, The Renaissance of Jewish Culture in
Weimar Germany, Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 1996, p. 37.
The fact that Goldschmidt is obviously a Jewish name renders it implausible that Bonatz was entirely
unaware of her Jewish origins. This casts some doubt also on the accuracy of Gegos memory or her account
of this scene. I am grateful to Yve-Alain Bois for pointing this out to me in a conversation held in May 2006.
Gegos description of this scene deserves to be quoted in full. I suddenly realised that the floor had been
taken away from under my feet; + in order to prepare a career path for the future I followed him [Bonatz] into
his office, where we held the most impressive conversation. He didnt even know of my 100% Jewish origins
luggage Gego returned to Hamburg. The following paragraphs of her notes are filled with often
fragmentary memories of the chaotic weeks before her departure. They give evidence of her
mounting fear, the worries for the safety of friends and relatives, the horror when she overheard a
conversation in which allusions were made to the Kristallnacht and the possibility of a war. In
March 1939, Gegos parents obtained permanent visas to stay in England where they joined Martin
and Hanna Goldschmidt with their families. They went on, after the war, to live near Los Angeles
and San Francisco, respectively. Hanna stayed in England where she died in 1978. Gego obtained
permission to stay in England only on the grounds that she would have to transfer to another
destination. The familys belongings had already been put in boxes, the family home sold when
Gego, left behind on her own, finally received the all-important phone call. She was told that a
distant cousins friend had been able to arrange a visa for her for Venezuela. A building contractor
would provide the necessary contracts but it still took some patience and further assistance from
good contacts in London to get all the paper work done. Finally, after an eventful journey she
sailed, in August 1939, into La Guaira, the port near Caracas.

and had expected to meet me that same evening at the usual celebrations for new Dipl. Ing. Arch., and I
explained to him that this would hardly be to the liking of the young graduates. He invited me come for tea at
his home that same afternoon, made his secretary write letters of recommendation to committees of
international architecture, of which he was a member and said that he would like to employ me but predicted
trouble for himself + recommended to me to emigrate as quickly as possible!! (My translation). In the
original the passage reads as follows, Da wurde mir pltzlich klar wie ich in der Luft schwebte; + um
Zukunftswege zu ebnen, ging ich ihm nach in sein Bro, wo ich die eindrucksvollste Unterredung mit ihm
hatte. Er wusste nicht einmal von meiner 100% Abstammung-und meinte mich abends bei der blichen
Zusammenkunft der frischen Dipl.Ing.Arch. zu treffen, und ich erklhrte ihm, das das wohl nicht im Sinne der
jungen Absolventen sei. Da lud er mich zu sich nach Hause zum Nachmittagskaffee ein, liess mir von seiner
Sekretrin Emphfehlungsschreiben aufsetzen an internationale Architekturgremien an denen er Mitglied war
und meinte, er wrde mich gerne bei sich anstellen, sah aber voraus, dass er damit Schwierigkeiten haben
wrde + riet mir so rasch wie mglich auszuwandern!! Huizi and Manrique, Sabiduras, p. 241-42.
The account of her youth and the first years in Venezuela Gego wrote in an ironic and gently
humorous tone. With few exceptions, even in her description of the last days in Germany, Gego
restrained her emotions and thus immediately diffused any notion of victimisation or worse,
sentimentality. It is clearly the account of an older person who re-told the story she had told herself
and others so many times and as such, it was consciously or unconsciously censured. In hindsight,
what appears most valuable is that she wrote it in German, the language she reserved throughout her
life for very personal matters, for her family and for the particular purpose of making a link to life
before exile. German gave voice to another Gego and involuntarily, she provided us with important
information on her social and cultural status as German citizen. Not immediately evident in
translations, the original German texts reveal Gegos vocabulary to be formed by a bourgeois world,
many terms now appearing slightly pompous, old-fashioned and her cultural references occasionally
obsolete. Related to her familys status is an issue that left a trace in the form of an otherwise little
remarkable poem Gego wrote to her mother in the early thirties. At the time she studied architecture
in Stuttgart and she had met her parents for a brief holiday in nearby Switzerland. Upon returning to
Stuttgart Gego found that in all the photographs she had taken she had missed to capture her
parents, - just mountains, lakes and meadows. Nonetheless, Gego sent the images to her mother
accompanied by a poem ending with the following lines:

Memory is all that is left, and now and then,
I enjoy much looking at those photographs.
I recommend you to do the same, in peace,
And what they seem lacking, add yourself!

Far more interesting than the melancholy longing, expressed in these lines, of a teenager for her
absent mother is the fact that Gego referred to a trip to Switzerland. On the one hand, this gives

Erinnerung bleibt brig, und dann und wann / Seh ich sehr gerne mir die Bilder an. / Ich rate Dir sehr, tu es
auch mal in Ruh, / Und was ihnen fehlt, das denk Dir dazu! Huizi and Manrique, Sabiduras, p. 253.
evidence of the Goldschmidts high social status but on the other hand, it points to historical facts
which strongly affected the lives of many German Jews. At this point, Switzerland had already
acquired its role as a safe haven for foreign capital. In the thirties a large number of Jews deposited
money and other valuables in Swiss banks in order to protect them from Nazi confiscation. After
1933, such transactions became far more difficult or impossible because it was no longer permitted,
to Jews and non-Jews, to export capital from the Third Reich. However, it is conceivable that
Gegos father, as a banker, had the foresight to move family assets early on to bank accounts abroad
for which purpose he might have travelled to Switzerland.
Thus, Gegos little poem serves today,
if not as evidence, then as a reminder of the anxieties and increasingly limited freedom of German
Jews already in the early thirties.

When Gego landed in Caracas in August 1938 she was only 27 years old and couldnt speak a word
of Spanish. On her journey Gego had seen the first black person in her life. In 1987, she recalled,
On a stopover in Barbados I saw for the first time in my life Negroes, who were fishing for coins at

In 1998, a court settlement was agreed between representatives of two large Swiss banks and of the Jewish
World Congress. The case had concerned the restitution of deposits by Jews in so-called namenlose (without
name) Swiss bank accounts to the relatives of victims of Nazi persecution. For an analysis and very detailed
account of the Bankenvergleich see, Marc-Andr Charguraud, La Suisse lynche par lAmrique: Lettre
ouverte au juge Korman, Editions Labor et Fides, Genve, 2005. This took place in the wake of a much larger
re-assessment of Switzerlands role during the Second World War. The most comprehensive and perhaps,
most reliable account of Switzerlands involvement in Nazi Germany and the issue of its immigration policy
during the time is the Bergier Bericht. (Bergier Report) It is the result of the work of an officially appointed
team of historians and economists, commissioned by the Swiss government to research the countrys
economical and political strategy during the period. Many of their findings have now been integrated into the
official history of the country as it is taught in Swiss schools, in order to encourage critical approaches and
more objective readings of Switzerlands past. See Jean-Franois Bergier, La Suisse, le National-Socialisme
et la Seconde Guerre Mondiale. Rapport final de la Commission indpendante dExperts Suisse Seconde
Guerre Mondiale, Berne, Pendo, 2002.
the sides of the ship, took even photographs of it. (My translation).
The culture and climate of
Venezuela could hardly have been more different from what she was familiar with and to some
extent, Gego never fully recovered the sense of safety that she had enjoyed with her family as part
of Hamburgs bourgeoisie. During the difficult first weeks, Walter Salomon, a business man and
distant relative, whom she had never met or spoken to before, was Gegos only emotional support.
He had helped arranging her visa and communicated now with the immigration authorities in La
Guaira, Caracas port. Salomon had reserved a small room for her in a hotel run by German
migrs who empathised with her situation and, eventually, she was able to exchange the single
room for a proper flat. She quickly picked up a few words of Spanish, however, it took another two
years for her to build a somewhat stable existence and make contact with people she could trust,
mostly German expatriates. In 1940, Gego married the German-Jewish entrepreneur Ernst Gunz
with whom she had two children, Tmas in 1942 and Barbara in 1944. Gego herself designed and
oversaw construction of their rather lavish, colonial-style family home in Los Chorros, a quiet area
situated just above central Caracas. The couple then ran a small workshop manufacturing furniture
and Gego was able to use her skills for designing tables, lamps and welded iron lattices which, in
traditional colonial architecture, often replaced glass windows. In the early forties, they decided to
close down the business, not least because Gegos second child, Barbara, was already on the way.
In the meantime, Gegos parents had left Europe, where they had shared a house with Gegos sister
Hanna (1909-1977) and her husband in Kent, England. They arrived in the United States in 1946
and were reunited with Gegos brother Martin (1898-1986) and her sisters Marie (1902-1970) and
Elisabeth (1918-1971), who all had taken residence in California. In order to welcome her parents
Gego undertook the boat journey from Caracas to Los Angeles, together with her young son Toms.

Beim Aufenthalt des Schiffes for Barbados hab ich zum erstenmal Neger gesehen, die neben dem Schiff
nach Mnzen tauchten, nahm sogar Fotos davon. Huizi and Manrique, Sabiduras, p. 244.
This was probably also the last occasion on which Gego saw her mother. Elisabeth Hanne Adeline
Goldschmidt, born Dehn in Hamburg in 1875, died in Los Angeles in 1947.

In the late forties Ernst Gunz began working as an administrator for an American company
with a branch in Venezuela. During this time Gego felt increasingly unhappy in her marriage and in
1951 they separated.
In the following year Gego met her second partner, the graphic designer and
painter Gerd Leufert (1914-1998). They moved to Tarma, a small village in a hilly region not far
from Caracas. There, in the small and secluded world of a rural village and amidst the fantastic
Venezuelan landscape Gego could feel more at ease and recover her creativity by drawing or
producing her first tentative watercolours. There is good reason to suggest that only when Gego met
Leufert was she able to reconnect fully to her artistic formation and architectural training in
Germany. Gerd Leufert was born in 1914 in Klaipeda in Lithuania, which was at that time of his
birth still called Memel and within German territory. Leuferts journey took him via Hannover,
where he had studied graphic design until 1933 and Munich, where he completed at the
Kunstgewerbeschule a degree in design in 1935, followed by studies in painting at the

Gegos strong attachment to her mother seems expressed in one of the anecdotes she recorded in 1987. I
failed the external Abitur exams (when I arrived at home with the negative results I formulated it with the
slogan main thing is we are all in good health and my mothers reaction was to say how nice, it means that
you will stay at home for a little longer. Fiel dann durchs externe Abitur (als ich mit dem negativen
Entscheid zu Hause erschien, hab ich es mit dem Slogan: die Hauptsache ist, dass alle gesund sind
formuliert, und meine Mutter reagierte darauf: wie gut, dann bleibst du noch eine Zeit lang zu Hause).
Huizi and Manrique, Sabiduras, p. 241. Of Gegos father, Eduard Martin Goldschmidt, we know little. He
was born in Hamburg in 1868 and died in Los Angeles in 1956.
It can be suggested that a first important personal revision of Gegos German Jewish identity occurred after
her divorce in 1953. It is unclear whether the break-up of Gegos marriage to Ernst Gunz was related to a
critical revision of German Jewish identity. Gunz was half-Jewish and according to their daughter, Barbara
Gunz, he had left Germany not so much in order to get away from the Nazis but even more so, in order to get
away from the Jews, which would imply a certain degree of Jewish self-hatred. An oscillation between
acceptance and rejection of her German identity most certainly took place during Gegos strong engagement
and identification with German design.
Kunstakademie until 1939. Gerd Leufert left Germany first for the United States, where he taught
briefly at the University of Iowa and the Pratt Institute in New York. He arrived in Caracas in 1951.

1.2 Venezuelan History
The single most important event in the history of modern Venezuela is the War of Independence of
the early nineteenth century. Venezuela had been part of the Spanish Empire since the sixteenth
century. In 1821 under the inspired and passionate leadership of Simn Bolvar (1783-1830), El
Libertador, the country achieved sovereignty and has remained a free state ever since. The wars had
been part of Bolvars ambitious dream to create a Gran Colombia, a union of Latin American
states much like the United States of America are today. This exceptionally intelligent and
passionate military leader envisioned a Latin American continent with its own cultures developing
in mutual support rather than each one separately in dependence on a foreign power. This spirit of
freedom was not unusual for the consciousness of the people of this region. Even before liberation
became a political fact Venezuelans had been able to maintain a somewhat loose relation to the
Spanish crown and relative independence from Spanish representatives in the country. The Spanish
conquistadores had no interest and exerted little control in the region because the country had
nothing to offer that could be exploited. Unlike Columbia where gold and minerals had been
discovered, Venezuela was primarily an agricultural country. However, the Venezuelan climate is
perfect for the cultivation of sugar cane and cacao and during the eighteenth and nineteenth
centuries most European settlers founded huge plantations along the coast. This brought with it the
importation of black slaves from Africa, which accounts for the presence of very strong African
cultural influences in Venezuela. The plantations and settler communities laid also the first tracks
for trade with European countries, for instance Germany. The cultural and trade links between
Germany and Venezuela existed long before German Imperialism became the force behind the
exploitation of so called primitive cultures. Evidence of a more scientific and humanistic interest
in the country is present in the documentation of a journey undertaken by Alexander von Humboldt
(1769-1859) between 1799 and 1804. His was of course a scientific project, part of German
Enlightenment enthusiasm for the Latin American continent. During this journey, Humboldt
meticulously collected and documented material for biological and physiological studies and his
letters, sent to contacts in Europe, provide us with a fascinating and moving portrait of the beauty of
Venezuela at the time.
The Spanish influence in Venezuela was at most times limited to the
presence of Catholic missionaries, with whom the Amero-indian and new slave population quite
readily accommodated. Religion was assimilated and fused with a cultural heritage originally from
the Amazon region or the Congo and the West Coast of Africa. To this day, Venezuelans pride
themselves of never having enforced racial segregation and thus having tolerated the mixture of
Indian, African, Spanish or German communities, including the cultural influences that each group
brought with them.
I have to neglect the more detailed description of Venezuelan history of the nineteenth
century and instead, provide a brief outline of political and economic developments within the
country since the beginning of the twentieth century. The radical changes taking place in 1920s and
1930s Venezuela have direct links to the emergence, thirty years later, of Arte Abstracto and
Cinetismo. The single most important event in the historical consciousness of Venezuelans living in
the fifties was not, as for Europeans, the catastrophe of the Second World War, but the death of
Juan Vicente Gomz (1857-1935). Three decades of a cruel dictatorship were over, yet, it took
another ten years and the overthrow of yet another dictator until dissident centre-left politicians

The original German and French letters by Alexander von Humboldt have been collected in Alexander von
Humboldt, Briefe aus Amerika 1799-1804, Ulrike Moheit (ed.), Akademie Verlag , Berlin, 1993. A Spanish
translation of the letters has been undertaken by the Argentinean art critique Marta Traba and published in
Caracas. It is evidence of the importance of this German enlightenment figure for Venezuelans cultural
identity. Marta Traba, Cartas americanas, Alejandro de Humboldt: compilacin, prlogo, notas y cronologa,
Charles Minguet, Marta Traba Trans, Biblioteca Ayacucho, Caracas, Venezuela, 1980.
could begin to establish a more or less democratic state. Between 1945 and 1948, during the first
brief presidency of Rmulo Betancourt (1908-1981) a process was initiated that led to fundamental
changes within the legal and political structure of the country. Basic human rights, such as equality
of all citizens, freedom of speech, the right to vote for all members of society, and this included
women, were made part of the constitution. Unfortunately, Betancourt's first socialist government
failed to achieve its ambitious goals and the democratisation process was halted and reversed,
temporarily, between 1949 and 1958. From 1952 General Marcos Prez Jimnez (1914-2001)
controlled Venezuelans with a military regime that sought to realise, on the one hand, the radical
modernisation of the countrys infrastructure and, on the other hand, re-enforced a reactionary ethos
which was supported by strongly hierarchical social and political structures.
The second most important event in the modern history of Venezuela was the discovery of
enormous resources of crude oil around 1920.
These placed the country immediately on an
international political and economic platform and in a position of enormous strategic power in
relation to the United States. However, not until the end of the Second World War did these vast oil
resources take on the full significance that they have to this day. During the European war years,
international trade and Venezuelan oil exports had slowed down, however, in the immediate post-
war period Venezuela became a main supplier of fuel needed for the reconstruction of European
towns. Venezuelan oil companies became important partners for those governments that sought the
quick and successful implementation of the Marshall Plan, primarily the United States. The fact that
the re-instalment of a military regime took place during the Cold war period and at moment of

Crucially, in Latin America, although modernization brought for many an increase in living standards and
promoted bourgeois individualism, it also brought the radical dependence on industrial superpowers. The art
historian Valerie Fraser described the close inter-dependence of the introduction of twentieth-century
modernism in Venezuela and the exploitation of oil resources in her essential study on architecture in Latin
American countries Building the New World. She provides an account of the introduction of European
modernism in Venezuela that sets it within a much wider cultural and historical frame than I am able to do
here. Valerie Fraser, Building the New World, chapter two Venezuela, Verso, London, 2000, pp. 87-144.
intense political tensions but also economic dynamism is crucial. Among other factors, it was the
support of foreign, primarily American politicians and businesses that allowed General Marcos
Prez Jimnez to come to power and orchestrate the last of Venezuela's military dictatorships.

Jess Soto: Early Biography
Let me now turn, only briefly, to the early biography of Jess Rafael Soto (1923-2005). It holds
many of the keys to an understanding of his later career and the particular form his large and very
influential oeuvre would take. For the argument of my thesis it seems important to introduce Soto
not only as a figure of French Cintisme but to provide a background that takes in account his
Venezuelan identity. It simultaneously situates Sotos work as narcissistically attached to the
country where he had been born and establishes the strong links between his works and those of
Gego. Both artists had to negotiate their ambivalent feelings in relation to a place they were forced
to leave behind. I am aware that a straight parallel between the two exiles, one enforced exile the
other politically motivated emigration, would be to diminish the gravity of Jewish exile, of anti-
Semitism and indirectly, the Holocaust. However, the effects of displacement have left in both their
oeuvres traces that I am interested to explore. The similarities in their respective responses seem to
me valuable for an art historical discipline that at the moment is confronted again with the issues
arising from an extreme mobility of practitioners of art and from strong multiculturalism especially
in urban areas.

Soto was born in 1923 in Ciudad Bolivr in Venezuela. This small colonial town is situated three
hours flight away from the capital city Caracas along the shores of the Orinoco River and
surrounded by vast expanses of unexplored and sparsely populated jungle. Soto grew up in one of
its poorest areas. (Fig. 3 Ciudad Bolvar, ca. 1930) His father earned the familys income as a
musician at dances and weddings in the area and music remained important to Soto throughout his
life. The early death of his father figures large in Venezuelan reconstructions of their famous sons
biography. This is perhaps an indication more of Venezuelans reverence towards paternal order
than application of a psychoanalytically-informed art theory. Equally, the claim that the loss of his
father had been the impulse behind Sotos wish to become an artist is unfounded. While it is true
that Soto, soon after his fathers death, helped earn the familys income by painting posters for the
local cinema this can hardly be considered an emotional reaction to it. Even as a child Soto had
taken great pleasure in copying reproductions of paintings from illustrated magazines and the more
pragmatic interpretation would be to say that Soto was obviously a very sensitive and highly gifted
child. He was also somewhat fragile and for some years suffered from recurring breathing
difficulties. His physical frailty made him naturally cautious and perhaps, somewhat inhibited in his
engagement and play with other children. More important, from an early age he must have appeared
unfit for the harsh life in a barrio of Ciudad Bolivr, where a strong physical constitution is
essential. Leaving his hometown was for Soto very likely also a question of survival.
His desire to get away was strong enough for him to seek help from grant-giving institutions. In
1942, after winning his first small bursary from the state of Guyana, Soto was able to move to
Caracas and study painting at the Academy of Fine Arts. His formation was very conventional and
informed largely by a realistic French landscape tradition that went back to the late nineteenth
century. The most advanced artist discussed at the time was Paul Czanne (1839-1906), yet, first
elements of an independent artistic community, holding regular meetings in artists studios or
makeshift clubs, appeared at the time. However, the sheer lack of information and direct
connections to an artistic centre, which at that time was Paris, meant that their artistic experiments
bore few interesting results.
The forties were a period of political and economic instability during which several short-
lived governments followed one another. In 1946, after Accin Democratica had won the first
regular election held in Venezuela, the government introduced unheard-of opportunities for the poor
of which one was the establishment of a state bursary for young artists. Many of those who had
gathered in the social clubs in Caracas would soon meet again in Paris. They were to form a group
called Los Disidentes, a sort of experimental ex-pat family unit, not unlike other artists
communities, giving each other moral, and sometimes, financial support. They became part of a
large Latin American community living in the French capital. Soto was among the first to receive a
grant, which enabled him to stay in Paris for six months. He travelled in 1950 and never really
returned to Caracas except, during the seventies, in the role of the artist who had made it abroad.

Post-war Politics in Venezuela
Venezuelans had followed the Second World War as outsiders but under the influence of Cold War
rhetoric many and especially the reactionary political elite chose to identify with the winner, the
United States. There were interests on both sides to establish diplomatic and business connections
between the two countries. Venezuelan businesses hoped to activate the somewhat sluggish and
underdeveloped economy and the United States were interested in securing not only control over
the countrys oil resources but also establishing a strategic (military) position on the Latin American
continent. After a military coup in 1949, Rmulo Betancourts left-wing government had to cede its
place to a reactionary right-wing elite.
In the decade of Prez Jimnez leadership, money that had accumulating during the war
years as a result of import restrictions was invested in the development of a vast new industrial
infrastructure. This enabled the cost efficient exploitation of oil, which was exported via United
States companies, to Europe where it served post-war reconstruction. In addition to the enormous
income from oil exports the sudden presence of foreign companies in Caracas and elsewhere in the
country brought with it a huge increase in tax revenue. Thus, oil became the fuel of a highly
dynamic economy, the States main source of income. More importantly, however, it led to
Venezuelan's ideological shift towards and at least temporary, identification with the United States.
Political and cultural values, such as an aggressive economy and a life-style that emphasised the
consumption of goods imported from the United States, were promoted and uncritically adopted
during the fifties and in the following two decades with little resistance from the public. There is,
however, an exemption to be postulated right away, one that is crucial for the development of Arte
Abstracto and of Cinetismo. Unlike the economic and political elite, the artistic community and the
cultural circles, be this literary, art critical, museums culture or collectors of art, remained on the
whole attached to French culture and in some cases, to a left-wing ideology or Communism.
When the dictatorship of Prez Jimnez had finally collapsed in 1958, Betancourt was able
to return for a second mandate. His party, the socialist Accin Democratica returned to power
taking on the difficult task to complete and amend Prez Jimnez over ambitious modernisation
plans. However, the late fifties and the sixties became the most important time in the establishment
of an artistic scene in Caracas. Thus, the politically and socially unfavourable parameters described
above were, paradoxically, also the precondition for the emergence of a group of artist that sought
the introduction of a liberal aesthetic, a modernism freed of the symbols of the Gomz era. The
emergence of Arte Abstracto and Cinetismo was due to Venezuelan and immigrant artists idealism,
however, it evolved in a situation that forced them to realise their art within and against Prez
Jimnez cruel regime.

1.3 Artistic Production since Independence
Venezuelan art before 1920 makes for a rather uneventful art history, one that follows, with some
delay, the developments in Europe. As in most Latin American countries visual culture was first
established in the sixteenth century by Spanish missionaries. They brought baroque influences from
Catholic Spain and Flanders and until the wars of independence artistic production remained
primarily religious. Painters of this period, although they signed with their own names, worked for
the church and usually were black slaves. After the wars of independence around 1830 the tastes of
the Venezuelan elite shifted toward a belated French classicism, and later in the century, toward an
academic landscape painting style. Social Realism and representations of the life of the poor, of
black people and the rural population appear only in the later nineteenth century. Around the same
time, the European artists Ferdinand Bellerman (1814-1889), George Melbye (1826-1896) and
Camille Pissarro (1830-1903) undertook journeys to Venezuela where they would produce the first
exotic representations of the countrys nature and primitive population. Pissarro, probably because
he had grown up in the Caribbean and hence was more familiar with a tropical vernacular produced
a series of drawings of high documentary value today.
They are among the earliest visual evidence
we have of the strong Spanish influences in architecture and of the degree of provinciality of its still
primarily agricultural society. However, in the capital Caracas the works of these European artists
would contribute to the development of a bourgeois art market and a demand for painting in the
style of the French and German academies. In 1865 the Academia de Pintura y Escultura was
founded and, simultaneously, the first incentive for artists from a Venezuelan cultural and economic
elite to travel to Paris to study the European masters.

Unfortunately, the visual culture of Venezuela's indigenous population is very hard to trace. Unlike
Mexico or other Latin American countries, Venezuelans in the past seem to have cared far less
about the preservation of the artefacts of the indigenous population. This may be due, in part, to an
entirely different understanding of time and history but it is certainly also the effect of colonisation
which brought with it the overvaluation of goods from European cultures. Today Caracas historical
Museum and other private collections, such as the Coleccin Cisneros, preserve and display only
relatively few pre-Hispanic figurines, artefacts and ritual objects. They tend to be objects of daily
use produced by nomadic tribes.
Since the beginning of the systematic exploitation of petrol these

For information on Pissarros Caribbean origin and journeys to Venezuela see, Richard Soler, Camille
Pissarro au Venezuela, exhibition catalogue, Les Presses Artistiques, Paris, 1978; and Alfredo Boulton,
Camille Pissarro en Venezuela, Caracas, 1966.
A wonderful exhibition of these rare objects was held in Germany in 1999-2000. Many of the exhibited
items were from the collection of the Fundacin Cisneros in Caracas. The highly informed texts collected in
the catalogue provide an excellent historical account of the indigenous population of the Orinoco river region
communities have rapidly decreased in numbers and the last remaining tribes live far from Caracas
along the Orinoco River or in the vast forests along the border to Brazil.
The lack of an original Venezuelan visual tradition has certainly contributed to the
immediate appropriation of a European aesthetic during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
However, not only did the country's elite adopt European tastes as a marker of class difference it
also actively repressed, by way of its complete indifference towards the historical and religious
value of Indian artefacts, indigenous cultures. Therefore, to speak of a lack of a visual tradition is
somewhat misleading when in fact it is the result of the cultural elitism that has governed the
country since the beginning of its colonialist period. The art critic Ariel Jimnez uses the term
ausencias primeras in order to invoke the painful awareness of a lost visual tradition.
He implies
that the notion of an original absence, or absence of original, has become defining for Venezuelan
national identity and experience of the present. They signify an infuriating inability to access an
original and hence materially verifiable past. He also suggests that denigration of the symbols of
indigenous Venezuelan cultures was a crucial element in the ready adoption of modernist
abstraction because its discourses promised infinite renewal and progress. He wrote, The first
issue, already mentioned, is precisely the absence of imposing pre-Colombian monuments and
traditions, to which is added on top, however for different reasons Venezuelans have always lived
with an architecture that renewed itself permanently the absence of a colonial architecture worthy
of consideration. These absences seem to have the consequence that Venezuelans are oriented
toward the future, and in consequence, toward the new, the modern which is seen as the sign of

of Venezuela. Moreover, the intention of the exhibition organizers was to show how in the design of these
objects ritual significance and everyday use merged. The emphasis on the transient and the ephemeral quality
of these objects reveal a non-European historical consciousness in which inheritance, that is history, has far
less significance in the formation of social identity. It is the very reason for the rarity of these objects today.
Orinoko - Panima, exhibition catalogue, Wenzel Jacob curator, Indianische Gesellschaft Cisneros, Kunst- und
Austellungshalle der Bundesrepublik Deutschland, Bonn, August 1999 - February 2000.
progress. In the eyes of the abstract artists, only the creation of a new world and a new structure
would enable us all to overcome these primary absences, and only they would concede to us the
authenticity that they refused to acknowledge, en bloque, in their own Latin American culture.

Venezuelans lack of historical consciousness and sense of continuity, the cultural vacuum
that avant-garde artists felt after Gomz death in 1935, was precondition for the appropriation of a
radically modernist aesthetic after 1945. As I had explained earlier, around 1945 a group of
ambitious yet extremely open-minded and engaged group of Venezuelan artists had travelled to
Paris where they re-united to form the artists group Los Disidentes, the dissidents. This group is of
the greatest importance for the later establishment of Arte Abstracto in Venezuela, not only as a
trend within the fine arts but also as the official aesthetic, a school taught at art institutions and
applied in the public field. Their impetus stemmed from a strong rebellion against what they felt to
be an anachronistic post-impressionism permeating art academia and museums culture and thus
prevented the evolution of a modern Venezuelan visual culture. The theoretical basis of their
critique was formulated in five issues of a magazine Los Disidentes published in Paris between
March and September 1950. The last issue contains a statement, which can be regarded as the
groups manifesto, NO is the tradition that we seek to establish. The Venezuelan NO that we try so
hard to achieve. NO to the false Salons of official art. NO to this anachronistic archive of
anachronisms that is called Museo de Bellas Artes. NO to de Escuela de Bellas Artes and its

The term could be translated as primary absences. Ariel Jimnez, Utopas Americanas, Coleccin Patricia
Phelps de Cisneros, Caracas and Centre for Modern studies, University of Texas, Austin, 2000, p. 31.
La primera pista, ya mencionada, es justamente la ausencia de monumentos y tradiciones precolombinas
imponentes, a la cual se sumar tambin la ausencia, por diversas causas los venezolanos hemos vivido
siempre en medio de una arquitectura que se renueva continuamente-, de una arquitectura colonial de
consideracin. Estas ausencias parecen tener como consecuencia una orientacin del venezolano hacia el
futuro y, por consiguiente, hacia lo nuevo, lo moderno, visto como signo de progreso. A los ojos de los
artistas abstractos, slo la creacin de un mundo nuevo y de una estructura nueva poda ayudarnos a superar
esas ausencias primeras, y slo ello poda concedernos la autenticidad que le negaban, en bloque, a la cultura
latinoamericano. Jimnez, Utopas Americanas, p. 31.
promotion of false impressionists. NO to the expositions of national and foreign merchants that one
can count to the hundreds each year in the Museo [de Bellas Artes]. NO to the false critics of art.
NO to the folklore musicians. NO to the false poets and llena-cuartillas writers. NO to the
newspapers that support so much of what is absurd and to the docile public that goes each day to the
Many of the names, that by now are part of the accounts on the Parisian art scene
of the immediate post-war period, re-appear in the history of Venezuelan Arte Abstracto and
Constructivism. Often, these artists commuted, over years, between the two locations never quite
settling in either one country. Thus, contemporary developments in the French capital became
simultaneously active components of the newly animated Caracas artistic community. If some
artists remained in permanent transition and lived, in Ariel Jimnez words
, neither here nor
there, other members of the original Disidentes decided or were forced to return to Venezuela
where they soon became involved in the modernisation projects under way in Caracas. The first to
come back was Mateo Manaure (b. 1926), founder of Cuatros Muros, the first gallery promoting
abstract art in Caracas. His painting style was indebted more to Kandinsky than to a strict French
Geometric Abstraction, which more often took its impulses from Piet Mondrian. Each returning

NO es la tradicin que queremos instaurar. El NO venezolano que nos cuesta tanto desir. NO a los falsos
Salones de Arte Oficial. NO a ese anacrnico archivo de anacronismos que se llama Museo de Bellas Artes.
NO a la Escuela de Bellas Artes y sus promociones de falsos impresionistas. NO a los esposiciones de
mercaderes nacionales y estranjeros que se cuentan por cientos cada ao en el Museo. NO a los falsos crticos
de arte. NO a los msicos folkloristas. NO a los falsos poetas y escritores llena-cuartillas. NO a los peridicos
que apoyan tanto absurdo y al publico que va todos los das dcilmente al matadero. Published in Los
Disidentes, nmero 5, Paris, setiembre, 1950. Re-published in Guillermo Meneses, Podemos Pensar, Pintura
Venezolano, 1661-1961, exhibition catalogue, Museo de Bellas Artes, Caracas, 1961, pp. 1-13.
Ni aqu, ni all is the title of Ariel Jimnez essay on Venezuelan Cinetismo published first in the
catalogue of an exhibition held in Madrid in 2000. 'Ni Aqu Ni All', Heterotopias, medio siglo, sin-lugar,
1918-1968, exhibition catalogue, Mari Carmen Ramrez (ed.) Madrid, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina
Sofia, 2000, pp. 237-243. The exhibition was held for a second time in a slightly re-arranged version under
the title Inverted Utopias in Houston in 2004. Inverted Utopias avant-garde art in Latin America, Mari
Carmen Ramrez and Hctor Olea, exhibition catalogue, Museum of Fine Arts Houston, Texas, Yale
University Press, 2004.
artist would develop, over the following five or so years, a highly individual interpretation of the
abstract art encountered in Europe. I have chosen to call abstract art produced in Venezuela Arte
Abstracto, to signify that it represents a development rather than an application of a European style.
Los Disidentes, those who had returned from Paris, played very consciously, an important role in
the definition of a new national identity as well as in the establishment of an art scene proper in
Venezuela. The most important names to remember are undoubtedly the art critic and artist
Alejandro Otero (b. 1921), the painters Mateo Manaure , Pascual Navarro (b. 1923), Carlos
Gonzles Bogen (b. 1920) but also the artists/writers Omar Carreo (b. 1927), Mercedes Pardo (b.
1922) and Pern Erminy. The sheer number of creatively active young people, making up only the
Venezuelan half of an increasingly internationalist art circuit, gives evidence of the vibrancy and
openness of the Caracas art scene at the time. There are several related reasons for this cultural
dynamism, one of which was that during the years of the first socialist government, after 1946, it
was official policy to facilitate foreign immigration. As a result, refugees from Europe, among them
many Jews, moderately left-leaning intellectuals and artists arrived in Venezuela in relatively large
numbers. Many of those would quickly become part of the artistic and intellectual scene of Caracas.
I have already mentioned the graphic designer Gerd Leufert, Gegos partner from 1952 onwards;
during the same period arrived, among many others, the Italian Nedo (b. 1926), a designer and later
collaborator of Leufert, and the German painter Luisa Richter (b. 1928), who had been a pupil of
Willy Baumeister (1889-1955) in Stuttgart and would become a close friend to Gego. Eventually,
these immigrants would establish a new generation of designers in the academic departments of the
Universidad Central de Caracas or of the Instituto de Diseo Fundacin Neuman. Importantly, these
immigrant artists did not reinforce already existing French or Spanish influences but instead, they
introduced a German tradition of abstraction, especially Bauhaus design. This contributed to the
establishment, early on in the development of a Venezuelan post-war art, of a certain tension
between French abstract influences, Geometric Abstraction and informel painting, and Bauhaus-
informed abstraction which found more readily practical application in either graphic design or
architecture. Nonetheless, together with Los Disidentes, these European immigrants would make up
the kernel of the Caracas cultural scene of the fifties, sixties and seventies. The dividing lines drawn
by different aesthetic traditions applied also to the more sensitive area of their respective political
orientation. The majority of European immigrants were from bourgeois backgrounds but usually
defended a moderately socialist political orientation. This compromise between bourgeois
individualism and socialism conformed with the ideals promoted by the Weimar Bauhaus. In the
case of Los Disidentes, even if they had spent only a few years in existentialist Paris this had left
strong ideological traces and had formed or confirmed their political convictions. Many had become
committed Communists, which meant that they were, on the one hand, critical of dominant
structures and reactionary politics and, on the other hand, interested in placing art in the service of
politics. Los Disidentes sought to make art an active element of a new Venezuelan society in which
class differences would be abolished. The appeal to those artists of a radical modernism creating a
tabula rasa situation is evident. An entirely abstract formal language, indebted perhaps more to
Kazimir Malevich (1878-1935) than to Piet Mondrian (1872-1944), allowed them the almost
seamless fusion with a contemporary discourse that favoured progress, functionality and reason. On
the one hand, it re-enforced their avant-gardist ambition, after all they were Los Disidentes and, on
the other hand, it had the enormous advantage of sanctioning the full integration of their art within
the Venezuelan modernisation projects that were under way. Thus, from the early fifties onwards,
the previous generation's visual vocabulary inherited from French post-impressionism,
impressionism or even bourgeois nineteenth-century portrait and landscape painting was rejected
and replaced with a new abstract vocabulary. Abstraction lent itself to this purpose, precisely
because it made no direct and obvious references to either the objects of the past or those of the
present. As can be imagined, many of the subtleties of their masters Malevich and Mondrian were
lost in the process. Transposing the avant-garde aesthetic of artists working during the Russian
Revolution and in the context of Dutch Protestantism of the early twentieth century into a tropical,
predominantly Catholic country takes considerable skills. Ultimately, the most important aspect of
this implantation of a foreign element into Venezuelan culture, especially for the subsequent
evolution of Cinetismo, was its effect on the existing concept and status of the artist. The
Romanticist notion of the creative genius, which had up to this point supported a bourgeois painting
tradition was exchanged for an artistic identity that was guided by an impersonal universal or in its
political and most utopian form, by the demands of a future, classless society. In the latter concept
the bourgeois art object would be replaced with an art that entirely fused with the social,
architectural and political space of post-war Venezuela. Alejandro Oteros (1921-1990) paintings
produced between 1947 and 1956 may be best suited as illustrations for a process of abstraction that
took place not only within the imagination of Caracas artistic circles but across the whole of
Venezuelan society. Cafetera azul, 1947, El pote rojo, 1948, Lineas inclinadas, 1951 and
Coloritmo, 1956 make clear that Arte Abstracto emerged as the result of a reductive process in
which reference to an external world is increasingly excluded from the field of visual
representation. (Fig. 4 Alejandro Otero, Lneas inclinadas, 1951) Perhaps, for this very reason, his
paintings are the best documentation we have of the crucial transformations that were taking place
in Caracas around 1950.

Carlos Ral Villanueva
Most exemplary of this transformation are the enormous architectural projects of Carlos Ral
Villanueva (1900-1975). The architect had studied in Europe and had brought with him a
Francophile taste and familiarity with the concepts and designs of French classicism and the pre-
modernist architecture of the Art Deco period. His figure is of such paramount importance to
Venezuelan architectural and art history that it is worth introducing some biographical details about
He was born in London in 1900 as the son of the Venezuelan diplomat Carlos Antonio

I consider two books essential to the study of Carlos Ral Villanuveas work. The first was written by Sibyl
Moholy-Nagy the wife of Laszlo Moholy-Nagy. Sibyl Moholy-Nagy, Carlos Ral Villanueva and the
Architecture of Venezuela, Alec Tiranti, London, 1964. Translation Marta Traba, Calos Ral Villanueva y la
Villanueva and a French mother, Paulina Astoul. Between 1912 and 1928 he lived in Paris, earned
his Baccalaurat and then studies architecture, last at the cole des Beaux-Arts. Judging from the
style of his designs realised immediately after graduation one would question whether he was
interested in or even knew Le Corbusiers avant-garde architecture.
It is true that in the period
before Villanuevas move to Caracas in 1929, fewer modernist projects were realised in France than
in the German context. And Villanueva had a conservative taste. Certainly at the beginning of his
career he was oriented toward a French academic tradition of a previous generation rather than the
dynamic modernism that was promoted by Le Corbusier or the social architecture of German
architects Mies van der Rohe, Peter Behrens, Walter Gropius, to name only a few.
graduation and brief employment in Paris, Villanueva decided to move to Venezuela and almost
immediately began to work as an architect, first in Maracay then in Caracas. Among his first
projects was the design, in 1931 of an enormous bull-fighting arena which he executed in rather
traditionalist, yet somewhat eclectic neo-colonial style, clearly responding to the nature of the

arquitectura de Venezuela, Editorial Lectura, Caracas, 1964. The second is Valerie Frasers, Building the New
World, Verso, London, 2000. Further source of information is the large catalogue of an exhibition dedicated
to Villanueva and held in the context of the IV Bienale de Arquitectura in So Paulo and at the Galera de
Arte Nacional in Caracas in 1999-2000. Juan Pedro Posani, Carlos Ral Villanueva: un moderno en
sudamrica, Galera de Arte Nacional, Caracas, 2000.
Le Corbusier became an influence in Venezuela via the work of another architect, Cipriano Domnguez.
Valerie Fraser notes, In January 1936 Cipriano Domnguez who, as a postgraduate student of architecture
in Paris in the early 1930s, had worked in Le Corbusiers studio lectured to the Venezuelan College of
Engineers on Le Corbusier and his Five Points towards a New Architecture. Domnguez was not alone,
however: all of the younger generation of architects who had been trained in Paris had come across Le
Corbusier and his ideas. [] In Caracas, one of the first projects to make use of the new style was a school by
Le Corbusiers disciple Cipriano Domnguez, the Liceo Fermn Toro (1936), which although it does not
make use of the Five Points accords with Le Corbusiers general ethos. Valerie Fraser, Building the New
World, p. 100.
Once more I wish to emphasis the radical avant-gardism of the Weissenhof Siedlung in Stuttgart. There was
little in France that could compare in audacity and broadmindedness of concept to this German Werkbund
project built in 1927. It is also important to remember that Gego had been a witness to these exciting
developments in German architecture.
buildings function. In 1935, Villanueva was commissioned by the dictator Juan Vicente Gomz,
only weeks before his death, to create two of the most significant pre-war buildings in Caracas, the
Museo de Bellas Artes and the Museo de Ciencias.
Both buildings, particularly within their exotic
setting, impress first with the severity of their neo-classical facades but once entered give a prime
example of the effectiveness of a combination of Art Deco elegance with airy classicist order and
calm. (Fig. 5 Carlos Ral Villanueva, Museo de Ciencias, Caracas, c. 1938)
In 1939, stylistic changes became more apparent and they informed also Villanuevas
designs for a public school, the first in Venezuela. The Escuela Gran Colombia in Caracas is
rendered in a style that does still contain strong elements of an Art Deco manner but is combined
with the influences of a more reductive Le Corbusian functionalism. With these three public
buildings Villanueva had taken the first steps into a career that would make him one of the most
important influences on the architectural and artistic tastes of Venezuelans. His strong political
position within the Caracas cultural elite is evident also in the commission of one of his major post-
war project, the Universidad Central de Venezuela (UCV). The project was launched during the
military regime of General Isaas Medina Angarita (1897-1953) in 1944, developed under
Betancourts first presidency from 1946 to 1947 but was built in several phases, mainly during the
decade of Perz Jimnez dictatorship, between 1949 and 1962. Today the entire university
complex is an UNESCO world heritage site. In the design of the Universidad Central, Villanuevas
thoroughly humanist ideals as architect, his fantastic sense of good form and attention to detail and,
perhaps, his idealism as Venezuelan citizen found their fullest expression. A visitor going around
the beautifully laid out campus cannot avoid feeling a sense of physical ease, comfort and

The designs of the Museum of Fine Arts and the Science Museum are expression of changes within
Venezuelans architectural tastes. More importantly they highlight the new stylistic differences between
religious and secular buildings. Valerie Fraser writes, But Venezuelan taste remained fundamentally eclectic.
While neo-colonial was popular for religious architecture, in the last years of his life Gmez rather suddenly
commissioned some major new public buildings, and for this the favoured style was Art Deco. Valerie
Fraser, Building the New World, p. 92-3.
intellectual freedom. (Fig. 6 Carlos Ral Villanueva, Universidad Central de Venezuela, Caracas,
1953) Despite the political structures that supported its construction the design of Universidad
Central de Venezuela stood for liberalism. Built for providing the space for education, basis of all
cultures, it sought to convey freedom and self-consciousness to a new generation of a people who
were still excluded from a contemporary modern world. Beyond its symbolic meaning the
Universidad Central was crucial for the introduction of modernist art in Caracas. From the very
start of its planning Villanueva incorporated the works of European artists among them Jean Arp
(1886-1996), Fernand Lger (1881-1955), Henri Laurens (1885-1954), Anton Pevsner (1884-1962),
Victor Vasarely (1908-1997), Baltasar Lobo (1910-1993) plus the American Alexander Calder
(1898-1976) in the layout of the public spaces of the central University complex. Spread across the
campus these sculptures by modernist masters, post-war innovators and Venezuelan Disidentes
represented side by side, the crme de la crme of the French and the Venezuelan art scene at the
time. However, it is important to emphasise that Villanueva gave in to his taste for already
established modernists. Many of the old masters from Europe were of a previous generation,
linking Villanuevas project to the modernism of the interwar years rather than the emerging post-
war modernity. Some artists, notably Fernand Lger and Henri Laurens, were effectively at the end
of their careers. Only the Venezuelan Constructivists and Cinetismo artists plus Victor Vasarely can
properly speaking be called emerging post-war artists. Arte Abstracto is strongly represented with
works by Carlos Gonzales Bogen, Victor Valera (b. 1927), Alejandro Otero, Mateo Manaure and
Pascual Navarro. (Fig. 7 Carlos Gonzles Bogen, staircase mural, Universidad Central de
Venezuela, c.1953) The rupture that opens up, inevitably, between the works of the European
masters and those of the young Venezuelan avant-garde is most explicit in the integration, or lack of
integration, of the works within their architectural setting. Arps Shepherd of the Clouds (a copy of
a previous work), Legers abstract murals and vitrail and even Calders beautifully poetic whirling
snow flakes seem self-contained objects not quite dialogue with the design of the building. They
could be exhibited anywhere, while Carlos Gonzles Bogens wall decoration, Mateo Manaures
abstractions, Victor Valeras ornamental mural or Gegos Chorro, a late addition to the department
of architecture, appear to be part of the building. They fuse seamlessly with the atmosphere of the
space, the artists renouncing all subjectivity, seeking no more than to be part of a whole.
The art of the modernist masters had a quasi after-life in Venezuela and was introduced at a
moment when, in Europe, caused by the rupture of the Second World War its significance had
already changed, when it had become the art of a previous generation. This had the effect that the
lessons of the modern artists were never fully integrated into the consciousness of the Constructivist
artists who felt, nonetheless to be their inheritors. This idea was confirmed in 1979 by the art
historian Blgica Rdriguez. She proposed that the artists adopting an abstract vocabulary, chiefly
Los Disidentes, were forced to reject, because they were in opposition to the established academic
painting tradition, the pictorial logic that had been the basis of the development of abstract art in
Europe. She writes, First we have to consider the formation those artists had received in the
Escuela de Artes Plsticas in Caracas, from their tutors and from the existing Venezuelan painting
tradition, [] which they now rejected. Their teaching had reached [only just] the moment [in
history] of the emergence of cubism and the paintings of Czanne. Precisely the way by which the
European artists had [in the meantime] arrived at abstraction.
Abstraction then, was arrived at by
way of a shortcut, an incomplete process, which positioned Constructivismo, at the very moment of
its inception, as expression of rupture and historical discontinuity. The differences that would
emerge between Venezuelan interpretations of abstract art and those of their European post-war
peers would have radical effects on the subsequent development of the plastic arts in Venezuela.

Primeros debemos considerar la formacin que estos artistas haban adquerido en la Escuela de Artes
Plsticas de Caracas, de sus maestros y de la misma pintura venezolana, [] aunque despus fue negada. La
enseanza llegaba hasta el cubismo y de la pintura de Czanne. Precisamente la va por la que los artistas
europeos llegan a la abstraccin. Blgica Rdriguez, Arte Geomtrico-Arte Constructivo Venezuela
1945/1965, Arte Constructivo Venezolano 1945-1965, exhibition catalogue, Galera de Arte Nacional,
Caracas, 1979, p. 15.
After 1946 Villanueva oversaw also the planning and the construction of some of the
largest housing developments in Caracas.
An early project, Unidad de habitacin El Paraiso,
realised in 1952 can be said to have been successful in its synthesis of design and function. Le
Corbusier's pre-war architectural programme was clearly an inspiration however, Villanueva
deviated from the European model in some important ways. By using a prismatic ground plan rather
than rigid axial orientation and by introducing terraced garden city landscaping, Villanueva clearly
emphasised the spaces for social interaction. This does respond to the tropical climate where much
time is spent out doors but also to the specific needs of a poor class in which social interaction has
the function of giving mutual support and is thus important for sustaining the sense of community.
A later project, Urbanizacin 2 diciembre (today Urbanicacin 23 de Enero), built between 1954
and 1957 for a maximum of 23400 inhabitants could stand, however, as a memorial to a failed
(Fig. 8 Carlos Ral Villanueva, Urbanicacin 23 de Enero, Caracas, c.1957) The project
failed because the sheer monumentality of its design crushed any sense of human scale. The estate
soon turned into one of the many problem areas of the city with high crime and poverty rates. Like
El Silencio (1941) and El Paraiso (1952) it was financed largely with money from the Banco

His influence as urban planner was crucial and already during the thirties he was engaged in the first
attempts at restructuring Caracas town plans. After his return to Venezuela he became chief architect and
adviser to the Banco Obrero, the workers bank, which had initially supported private construction only but,
from 1941 onwards, funded public housing projects and the redesign of Caracas town plans. For a detailed
account on Villanuevas role as town-planner see Valerie Fraser, Building the New World, pp. 104-10
Valerie Fraser writes, The Banco Obrero solutions to the housing problems of Caracas in the 1950s were
fundamentally architectural, based on utopian architecturaland urban theory with very little regard to the real
needs and conditions of the inhabitants. The government wanted quick, visible results, not protracted,
expensive research into social and economic issues. Once the schemes were under way, funds often ran out
before the social infrastructure incorporated into the architects plans the schools, health centres, social and
sports facilities, and transport systems could be completed. In some ways this is not dissimilar to the
resettlement schemes of the sixteenth-century colonizing Spaniards who imposed a new spatial and social
order on the indigenous population. Valerie Fraser, Building the New World, p. 121.
Obrero. The 23 de Enero superblocks
were part of the Plan Nacional de la Vivienda (National
Housing Plan), which had been devised under the liberal governments of Betancourt and Rmulo
Gallegos before 1950, it sought to accommodate for the unprecedented influx of a work force
originating from the surrounding country. Between the twenties and the fifties Caracas' population
had increased from 200,000 to six million inhabitants, which had created not only an enormous
shortage in accommodation but also social problems for which the government was not prepared.
With a post-modern sense of resignation Venezuelans face, again today, the almost insurmountable
problems created by rapid technological progress and modernisation. The projects of the early
fifties seem irrational in their ambition and misguided by their functionalist focus. They failed to
take into account the physical and psychological problems of a people who had been forced to
develop from a nineteenth-century rural population into a modern, or rather post-modern, society
within thirty years. It is evident that no architectural programme, especially not one that imagined
as its ideal inhabitant a middle-class European, could erase the authoritarianism and the sense of
dependency most Venezuelans had been brought up with. In Venezuela, the failure to integrate the
social structures and habits of a people that still lived like their ancestors, often as devout Catholic
communities, into a purely functionalist modernist system had catastrophic effects. In the late
sixties the radical failure of a liberal government to co-ordinate the massive modernisation project
became evident. Mismanagement, corruption and sheer lack of interest had made the realisation of
the original Plan Nacional de la Vivienda impossible. The breakdown of the town's infrastructure,
rising violence and crime rates, the lack of adequate education for the poor are just some of the
almost insurmountable problems manifesting themselves with increasing urgency during those
years. The existence of a huge Lumpenproletariat
became an undeniable fact. Caracas was a

I am borrowing this term from Valerie Frasers description in Building the New World, p. 113.
The term Lumpenproletariat was defined by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels in The German Ideology
(1845) in which they analyse the devastating effects on German society of capitalism and rapid
industrialisation. Members of the Lumpenproletariat are no longer part of the economy but are the large group
disaster. It had grown on the basis of sheer speculation, huge highways were cutting across the
centre of town, high rise buildings had been erected on previous recreation grounds and public
space had been sold to the highest bidding American investor. Accin Democraticas promise to
bring about a significant raise in living standards for everybody became true only for the privileged
few and this contributed to ADs defeat by the Catholic COPEI in 1968.
During the sixties Villanueva had take on a diplomatic function beyond the immediate
context of the Venezuelan post-war modernisation program as a member of the board of governors
of the Museo de Bellas Artes. He would become an important mediator between North American or
European cultural institutions, the Museum and the Venezuelan artists. Between 1971 and 1973
Villanueva oversaw the design and construction of the extension to the existing Museo de Bellas
Artes, the Galera de Arte Nacional and in the international art context he modelled the
representation of a new Venezuelan visual identity. In 1967 he had designed the Venezuelan
pavilion for the World Fair in Montral for which he commissioned Jess Soto to create a large-
scale installation. The very predominance of Cintisme in the seventies and the huge number of
public commissions for artworks by Jess Soto and Carlos Cruz-Diez (b. 1922) would be
unthinkable without his influence.
Villanuevas last project, the Museo Jess Soto in Ciudad
Bolvar, inaugurated in 1974 one year before his death, seems the appropriate culmination of a
radical modernists career. Carlos Ral Villanueva died in Caracas in August 1975.
Villanuevas influence went far beyond his role as eminent architect of the post-war period
and reached deep into the very fabric of Caracass social and political establishment. In his role as
mediator between the various cultural institutions and the governments controlling the country

of those excluded from bourgeois society, the ruined, vagabonds, discharged soldiers, discharged prisoners,
pickpockets, brothel keepers, prostitutes, rag-pickers, beggars and the homeless.
In addition, the unprecedented rise of international oil prices, as an effect of the military conflicts in the
Middle East, led to a veritable oil bonanza in Venezuela. Many artists but especially Jess Soto and Carlos
Cruz-Dez profited from the sudden riches not only of state institutions but also of an upper middle-class elite.
between 1945 and the mid-seventies, he became crucial for the definition of a specifically
Venezuelan cultural identity.

Venezuelan Arte Abstracto and Cinetismo
In the previous sections I have sought to convey the particular dynamic that governed Venezuelan
politics since the end of the Gomz era. Evidently, this was a closely-knit society with a few
powerful figures competing for and controlling key political positions. The new modern Venezuela
was a society in the making that nonetheless, was developing within structures established in the
thirties. Often it was only the name of a ministry or state organisation that changed while the
personnel, in fact, remained the same. The world Gego had escaped to from Nazi Germany was one
that was moved and controlled, during the fifties, by ambitious and sometimes scrupulous men. The
favouritism that then still sustained Caracas cultural elite was the very reason for the emergence of
Venezuelan Arte Abstracto.
As we have seen, abstract art was introduced into Venezuela around 1950 by artists who,
like Soto, had encountered French Geometric Abstraction and informel painting on their sojourns to
Paris, undertaken immediately after the Second World War. Henceforth, Venezuelan abstract art
would develop parallel to and in dialogue with the abstract trends that dominated French painting
until the late fifties. However, Cinetismo does not represent a direct development of Venezuelan
Arte Abstracto
, as it is the case with France where Cintisme grew directly out of Geometric
Abstraction of the pre-and post-war period. Instead, it was introduced in Caracas via the work of
Jess Soto, Victor Vasarely and Carlos Cruz-Dez, artists based in Paris and active, at the time,
primarily in Europe. Cinetismo must be distinguished from Venezuelan Constructivism and Arte
Abstracto in three ways. First, Cinetismo made clearly sole reference to a European painting
tradition and to contemporary aesthetic trends in Paris. Second, it was never engaged in the critical
discourses on ornamentation or the primitive as had been the case with Venezuelan Arte Abstracto.
Cinetismo never identified with traditionalist voices that sought in the ornamentation of the
indigenous people of Venezuela a raison dtre for their art.
Thirdly, Cinetismo emerged in clear
opposition to Constructivist painting and sculpture. Its main aim was to render visible optical
illusions, which result from interference in normal perception caused by the repetition of modular
elements, by surface reflectivity and mobility of parts of the art object. Unlike constructivism,
which sought an integrated materiality, Cinetismo sought to create optical effects understood as
manifesting an absolute and temporality by way of de-materialisation or trans-substantiation.

These trends toward abstraction, established at the beginning of the fifties by Venezuelan artists
who sought to translate European culture into a Latin American modality, became for Gego and
Gerd Leufert a welcome opportunity not only to use their skills and their knowledge but also to
promote their own artistic careers. They were very lucky that during the forties foreign immigration
had been encouraged by the Venezuelan government. The intention had been to attract European
labour, in order to boost the flagging agricultural sector. However, to the disappointment of the
government officials, many European immigrants had far higher qualifications than the local
population and sought to enter instead the business sector, higher education or politics. This
prompted the government to radically reverse its strategy again in the late fifties and close
Venezuelan borders to further immigration. Many migrs, like Gego and Gerd Leufert, were
knowledgeable in the arts or design and they established themselves in key positions in university
departments, art institutions and galleries in Caracas. On the whole, this created an enormously
inspiring, multicultural and internationalist context. It was not unusual that Venezuelan artists and

I have chosen to use the term Arte Abstracto in order to distinguish abstract art produced in Venezuela after
1950 from French geometric abstraction.
intellectuals, among them Jess Soto, Alejandro Otero and Miguel Arroyo (b. 1920) would spend
their evenings as guests in Gego and Leuferts idyllic enclave in Tarma. When the couple decided,
in 1956, to rejoin Caracas they were able to draw strong artistic impulses and encouragement from
their Venezuelan friends. In turn, Los Disidentes after a brief encounter with French art and culture
were happy to welcome among their midst immigrant artists familiar with European culture and a
modernist aesthetic. Yet, the fact that immigrants were sometimes better placed to get access to
academic or art institutions is an indication also of the class divisions that ran deep within Caracas
society. Los Disidentes, almost without exception, were from poor families and often were born in
rural areas. When they returned from Paris in response to Carlos Ral Villanuevas invitation to
take part in the University project, it was certainly with ambivalent feelings. Los Disidentes
manifestos and artists texts written in Paris give ample evidence of their sense of frustration and
impatience with the structures they were forced to conform to.

Upon the urging of Alejandro Otero, Gego began creating, around 1957, three-dimensional
welded objects. Clearly, for Gego, this was a time of renewal, liberation and formal
experimentation. Drawing and printing gave way to a more solid sculptural practice which she
continued to develop over the next decade. In this first phase she produced only small to medium
sized objects made of black welded iron, a technique she had encountered when designing the iron
lattices of her family home. (Fig. 9 Gego, Partiendo de un rombo, 1958) Later, she introduced

As an example of modernist painting that made reference to Latin American folk art one can mention the
work of the painter Gonzales Torres-Garcia. Although an internationalist artist, he nonetheless remained
attached to a Latin American tradition of abstraction.
One of those who clearly refused to give their support to Prez Jimnez was Jess Soto. Asked by art critic
Ariel Jimnez why he hadnt realised the model he had created for Villanuevas Universidad Central project
Soto replied, Well, for political reasons, to oppose the military dictatorship. My artists friends told me that
we couldnt cooperate with a military regime and I decided not to make itbut in the end, you see, they made
theirs and the only one that wasnt made was mine. Ariel Jimnez, Conversations with Jess Soto, translation
Evelyn Rosenthal, Fundacin Cisneros, Caracas, 2005, p. 158. First published as Conversaciones con Jess
Soto, Coleccin Patricia Phelps de Cisneros, Caracas, 2001.
highly reflective stainless steel wire in several series of untitled objects which, on occasion, were
arranged under the title Lineas. These small pieces in particular can appear like the painful
expression of contents that resist full articulation. Many of these objects exhibit a desire to
transgress, to intrude or break into new space. I suggest that here aggression was made part of a
creative process which allowed Gego to explore emotional limits and boundaries. Simultaneously, it
was a mirror of the violent transformation and re-construction of a modern architectural landscape
in Caracas, which Gego recorded with an almost photographic sensibility.
Gegos interest in optical effects would bring her temporarily, very close to the Cintisme
artists Jess Soto and Carlos Cruz-Dez. In 1959, Cruz-Dez made Gegos sculpture Vibracin en
negra of 1957 (Fig. 10 Gego, Vibracin en negra, 1957) the subject of a film. Movement and
Vibration in Space: A sculpture by Gego was recorded at the architecture department of the
Universidad Central de Caracas.
In the first frames of the film we see Gegos piece suspended
from the ceiling within a minimal theatrical setting. Then, Gego emerges from the background
walking now gingerly toward the work, grabbing it with both hands and setting it in motion around
its own axis. A close-up shot on the rotating object then highlights the movement of the parallel
metal bands, which form the body of this piece, and thus creates optical effects which temporarily
suspend a clear sense of direction. The similarity with the effects observable in Sotos plexiglas
objects shown at the gallery Denise Ren only three years earlier is evident. The editing of the film
had taken place at Iowa State University
where, in the same year, Richard Raynor recorded a
second film inspired this time by Gegos Esfera of 1959. Metal Alive Sphere: A sculpture by Gego

Cruz-Dez film was on view in the Gego exhibition organised by Peter Weibel and Nadja Rottner at the
Zentrum fr Kunst und Medientechnologie (ZKM) in Karlruhe, Germany in 2005. A copy of it is held in the
collection of the Fundacin Gego in Caracas
At this point, Venezuelan Cinetismos geographic orientation and cultural affiliation still included the
United States. Only ten years later it would have been unthinkable for Carlos Cruz-Dez to work in a US
university and it was only Alejandro Otero who remained most persistently attached to US technology
departments such as the one at MIT in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
emphasised, by way of its tight framing, abstract optical effects resulting from the animation of the
object itself.
Thus, in the early sixties Gego held a prominent place within a highly motivated group of
Venezuelan designers and artists. Moreover, her artistic production was at this point in direct
dialogue with the development of Caracas modern architecture. The Constructivist ambition of the
full integration of art into life was then guiding her thought. Between 1962 and 1972 Gego was able
to realise, sometimes in collaboration with her partner, several large-scale architectural installations.
Prominent among them are Escultura, for the Banco Industrial de Venezuela of 1962 (Fig. 11 Gego,
Escultura, Banco Industrial de Venezuela, 1962) and Cuerdas created for the monumental housing
complex of the Parque central in 1972. (Fig. 12 Gego, Cuerdas, Centro Simn Bolvar, 1972)
However, this strong engagement with contemporary Caracas should not be taken as a sign of her
complete assimilation into Venezuelan culture.
Her thinking remained also linked to an aesthetic
going back to German pre-war culture, which she remembered and re-discovered at the same time.

The synthesis of the two so dissimilar cultures was a means for Gego to overcome the rupture
caused by exile. One of her best friends, Miguel Arroyo states that Gego did not consider the idea of
progress and the rational European model a necessarily evil, Here [in Venezuela] she forgot
everything that was forgettable about Europe, but not what she could not forget: her education. And
this enabled her to assimilate everything that was related to it, including Abstractionism,

One of the earliest commentators on Gego was the Argentinean art critic Marta Traba. In the seventies, she
resided in Caracas and became highly critical of social developments, especially of the role graphic design
assumed within the definition of new cultural values. Mirar en Caracas is a collection of her criticism in
which she discussed many then important figures, especially of the immigrant community, such as Gego,
Leufert, Nedo and others. It is an excellent introduction to seventies culture in Caracas. For a comment on
Gego see, Gego: Caracas Tres Mil, Mirar en Caracas, Monte vila Editores, Caracas, 1974.
Admittedly, her interests were not limited to Germany but nonetheless, they remained focused on a
Northern European cultural context. For instance the exhibition of works by Henry Moore at the MBA in
1964 most certainly inspired Gego to reading Herbert Reads art theory. Her library contains Herbert Read,
Constructivism and the ideas about progress that were part of her background.
However, a second
and crucial part of her artistic practice was far more intimate and highly individualistic. The issue of
Gegos strong individualism, her continued attachment to European, especially, German culture and
the resulting strained relation to Cinetismo will be discussed in chapter III. The art historian Iris
Peruga confirms that Gego was extremely free-spirited, and her artistic pursuits reflected her need
to find new creative possibilities on her own. Consequently, she never quite identified with the
Venezuelan Geometric Abstractionists, but worked, methodologically in isolation, somewhat
withdrawn from the newest trends and trusting only herself and her own skills.

1.4 Gegos Search for Continuity
In this section I establish the links between Gegos work and the concepts developed at the early
Weimar Bauhaus. Later I will propose that Gego was engaged in the recuperation of a field of
knowledge that was tied firmly into the German-Jewish culture of the Weimar Republic. Here my
concern is to show that Gegos revision of this socialist project had the aim of translating and
adapting it to the specific needs of a young Venezuelan society.
Throughout the fifties and sixties, we can ascertain that Gego was guided by a strong
impulse to find expression for emotional contents that may include the recovery of forgotten
knowledge. As noted earlier, this seems particularly evident in small three-dimensional objects, first
versions of which appear in the late fifties, where we find a dominantly expressionistic mode. (Fig.
13 Gego, Sin ttulo, 1958) They suggest a strong subjectivity and emotional engagement with

The Form of Things Unknown, An Essay on the Impact of the Technological Revolution on the Creative Arts,
Meridian Books, 1963.
Miguel Arroyo quoted by Iris Peruga from an unpublished note of 1999, Gego: the Prodigious Game of
Creating, Obra Completa, 1955-1990, Fundacin Cisneros, 2004, p. 379.
material and thus invite associations of forceful transgression, intrusion and distorting violence.
(Fig. 14 Gego, Cinta, 1962) Such expressivity remains, however, sporadic and does not recur until
the early seventies in the important series of Chorros. These clearly are a development of the formal
concerns articulated in the smaller works of the fifties and early sixties and indicate a pattern of
revision of earlier articulated ideas.
On a more objective level, in her teaching practice, Gego demonstrated a similar revisionist
impulse. Here, however, it allowed her to revisit the architectural training she had received in
Stuttgart and, at the same time, allowed her to shift emphasis away from this traditionalist to a more
progressive functionalist approach. With great tenacity Gego developed a theoretical and practical
teaching programme that was loosely based on the Bauhaus Vorkurs. This pedagogic course had
been outlined by Johannes Itten (1888-1967) during the earliest phase of the Bauhaus, around 1920,
then still in Weimar.
As we have seen earlier, Gegos foundation at the Technische Hochschule
under Paul Bonatz was conservative and anti-modernist at a moment when traditionalist thinking
was already exploited by Nazi propaganda for its racist ideology of Blood and Soil (Blut und
Boden). It is for this reason that we have to take very seriously Gegos turn toward a reformist
modernism that emphasised experimental openness and subjectivity, while retaining universal
values of geometry. Ittens highly esoteric pedagogy is clearly indebted to Protestant asceticism as

Iris Peruga, Gego: the Prodigious Game of Creating, p. 379.
An outline of the Vorkurs appeared in book form only in the post-war period, first in 1963, but was
transmitted to Gego as verbal knowledge almost certainly by Gerd Leufert, who had been trained as a
designer in Germany. First German publication, Johannes Itten, Mein Vorkurs am Bauhaus. Gestaltung und
Formenlehre, Otto Maier Verlag, Ravensburg, 1963. I also attach significance to an object in Gegos personal
collection of jewellery, a piece designed by Naum Slutzky (1984-1965), who was part of the circle around
Itten. In a photo taken by her brother-in-law Hans Meyer, Gego is wearing a Slutzky necklace. This particular
piece seem to merge Gegos fixation on the use of reflective material with an interest in temporal continuity
which is evident in the reference to a Mbius strip.
well as Eastern mysticism and its adoption most certainly prevented Gego from fully embracing a
post-war modernism that rejected ornament and subjectivity for mass-producible simplicity.

Among the few works that were preserved from the time when Gego worked in the
secluded retreat in Tarma is a small panel painting. Today, it is in the possession of Gegos brother-
in-law Hans Meyer who lives in Kent, England, where I had the opportunity to examine and
photograph the work. (Fig. 15 Gego, Untitled, c.1956) It is a startlingly abstract work, a kind of
cosmology, typical also of works by Paul Klee (1879-1940) or the Czech painter Frantisek Kupka
(1871-1957), and reminiscent of the particular type of drawing children produce when they begin to
think conceptually. The play with overlapping circles and ovals, seemingly transparent, create a
vague sensation of infinite space. This interest in spatial extension and wholeness she developed
further in a number of medium sized welded objects. (Fig. 16 Gego, Doce crculos concntricos
(Girando Moebius), 1957 and Fig. 12 Gego, Vibracin en negro, 1957) Vibracin en negro
especially, conveys temporal continuity very strongly by the fact that it is hung from the ceiling and
thus seems to rotate around an invisible axis.

In Europe Bauhaus pedagogy had similarly been re-installed and adapted to a post-war society by designers
and architects, for instance Max Bill (1908-1994). Indeed, during the sixties Gego found several opportunities
to visit German and Swiss design schools and observe these latest developments.
It is unlikely but not impossible that Gego knew at this point the work of the Swiss artist Max Bill (1908-
1994). He had been a student at the Dessau Bauhaus of, among others, Paul Klee and there are startling
similarities between Gegos early sculptures and Bills various versions of the Mbius strip, which are all
based on a particular mathematical formula. For instance Kontinuitt, a sculpture Bill created over a very long
period of time, from 1946 until 1982, does seem to convey a similar longing for permanence. Indeed, the very
first version of Kontinuitt, exhibited in 1936 at the Triennale in Milan, was suspended from the ceiling! In
1979 Bills work was shown at the Museo de Bellas Artes and the museum purchased, probably at this
occasion, a large carved stone sculpture, which today is part of the permanent collection. In the original
exhibition catalogue we find the transcript of a speech given by Max Bill to the members of A.I.C.A.
(Association Internationale de Critiques dArt) which was and still is a European institution, based in Paris,
with strongly humanistic aims. Bill was an outspoken supporter of a post-war socialism that rested on
Protestant ethics. See Axel Stein Nuez-Ricardo, Max Bill, Esculturas, graficas, Museo de Bellas Artes, 1979.
In 1955 Bill became the co-founder of the Ulmer Hochschule fr Gestaltung, an institution that saw itself in
The idea of permanence fuses with a second strand of interest evident at this point of
Gegos development, which ties her work more firmly into the Venezuelan context. In the late
fifties she clearly adopted some of the ideas of Jess Soto, Carlos Cruz-Dez and Alejandro Otero.
The obvious formal similarities are the crossing and animating of bands of parallel lines in order to
create optical effects, which is a clear reference to works Soto produced since 1954 in the context of
French Cintisme. Also, Gego quite consciously subscribed to Cinetismo by choosing the title
Vibracin en negro, a term that Soto would employ regularly from 1958 onwards. Gegos interest
in these effects was never completely silenced, although, from the early sixties onwards she
increasingly gave emphasis to surface reflectivity by using almost exclusively galvanised iron and
aluminium in her work.
In 1957, Alejandro Otero encouraged Gego to take up teaching at the Escuela de Artes
Aplicadas Cristbal Rojas, where she first instructed fine art students in elementary sculptural
practice. Her course programme was pioneering because of its highly experimental and workshop-
oriented approach. According to Ruth Auerbach, one of Gegos students,
Gego addressed issues
related to building models out of different materials in order to observe the elements of form
(space), texture (light) and arrangement of mass (proportion).
By the beginning of the sixties,
Gego had developed this basic course into a more sophisticated pedagogic programme by which she
sought to convey the fusion of individual expression with rational mathematical thinking, artistic
invention with industrial modes of production. This practical application of her knowledge also had
an effect on her artistic development and, temporarily, subjective expression was halted by a more

the tradition of the design theory developed at the Bauhaus. See Max Bill, Maler, Bildhauer, Architect,
Designer, Thomas Buchsteiner (ed.), Hatje Cantz, 2005.
Auerbach completed Gegos Spatial Relations Seminar the Instituto de Diseo, Findacin Neumann
during the year 1972. Today she is an artist and writer and she described Gegos teaching methods in detail in
a recently published essay. Ruth Auerbach, Gego: Constructing a Didactics, in Gego. Obra Completa, 1955-
1990, Fundacin Cisneros, Fundacin Gego, Fundacin Museo de Bellas Artes, Caracas, 2003, pp. 407-12.
Ruth Auerbach, Gego: Constructing a Didactics, p. 407.
rational and structural approach. Gegos fantasies took on monumental dimensions which she
realised in several large-scale installations. These pieces were, properly speaking, architectural
projects, which involved a long planning phase and the help of several assistants and often they
were co-designed with her partner Gerd Leufert. (Fig. 17 Gego, Mural INCE, 1969)
Her activity as architectural designer coincided with Gegos engagement as professor at the
Universidad Central de Caracas and at the Instituto de Diseo, Fundacin Neumann. These
professional successes compensated Gego for the frustrations she had experienced during her first
years of exile. During the forties, all attempts to launch a career as professional architect had failed
dismally and had left her very dissatisfied with herself. Significantly, her engagement as teacher
allowed her also to establish links to her training in Germany. Gego acknowledges in her writings
that her interest in architectural technology, modernism and more socially oriented design
programmes were initially stirred during the inter-war years. My inclination towards architecture
came later and was influenced by social issues related to the social construction projects that
developed at the time.
Gego was by no means alone with her focus on Bauhaus design.
Auerbachs detailed description of the syllabus at the Universidad Central de Venezuela provides
evidence of a great consensus among the faculty. Gego fitted in well with a group of ambitious and
progressive teachers who sought to provide a solid technical training, which at the same time
conveyed ethical values and fostered a strong spirit of collaboration. This was clearly a socially
dynamic period and Gego felt inspired by the exchange with students, fellow academics and with
artists who worked in the field of urbanism and public sculpture. Auerbach confirmed, In
Venezuela, the most interesting time for the Bauhaus method begins in the late 1950s and lasts
throughout the 1960s. It coincides with the inauguration of the Facultad de Arquitecturas new
building in 1957, where professors and students alike revolved around the philosophy of the

Architektur-Interesse kam spter, teilweise angeregt durch soziale Gedanken ber die damals sich
entwickelnden Bauunternehmen. Huizi and Manrique, Sabiduras, The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston and
Fundacin Gego, Caracas, 2005, p. 240.
Composition Workshop.
Gegos theoretical approach conformed to the Constructivist ideal of a
fusion of art with life. Nonetheless, her insistence on individualism, typical also for Ittens
pedagogy, is a significant deviation from the theoretical approach of Arte Abstracto and Cinetismo.
Auerbach wrote, From a spatial, temporal and academic point of view, it would seem that Gego did
bond with or become influenced by the artistic theories of the Bauhaus. [But] Only after abandoning
her homeland would any link to Bauhaus methods develop. Her academic heritage, founded on the
rigor of constructive and technical methods, would evolve slowly into a poetic interpretation of
space with a stronger artistic sensibility.

Gegos knowledge of pre-war German design and her obvious familiarity with Weimar
culture raised suspicion in the minds of her fellow Venezuelans. Auerbach felt obliged to open her
essay with a short paragraph on Gegos relation to Paul Bonatz and on his role in the controversy
around the Weissenhof Siedlung. Auerbach defended Bonatzs socialist orientation and argued for
his political innocence in the conflict around the nomination of contributors to the project. This
view clearly runs against the opinion of many European historians writing about this crucial
Werkbund project.
Further, she seemed intent on deflecting attention away from any possible
associations between Gegos years as a student of architecture and accounts of Nazi gatherings or
even open anti-Semitic hostility. By this she is contradicting the Technische Hochschules own
website which confirms that Hitlerjugend meetings were held on the schools grounds during the
time of Gegos studies. Auerbachs aim was to neutralise a scenario which possibly, has given rise
in the past, to speculations of a xenophobic or anti-Semitic environment. Gego herself was

She adds in a footnote that Design became a category applied [only] after the sociologistic [sic] renovation
of the seventies, directed toward mass culture. She seems to imply that during the sixties, the motivation for
adopting Bauhaus theory was social idealism rather than the search for an already established aesthetic
program. Ruth Auerbach, Gego: Constructing a Didactics, p. 407.
Ruth Auerbach, Gego: Constructing a Didactics, p. 407.
consistent in her defence of Bonatz not least because he had been supporting and protective of her
during her very last months in Germany. Auerbach quoted Bonatz for saying that Once the
nationalist rhetoric took root a grey shadow fell over all of those who loved freedom. Our
department [at the Technische Hochschule] did not suffer flagrant interventions; they have not
uniformed our thought, []
Nonetheless, to make the pre-war situation appear more harmless
than it was prevents also comprehension of the real menace to Gegos life at the time. Auerbach
simply ignored the anti-Semitism that was part of Gegos experience at the Technische Hochschule,
including her relationship to Paul Bonatz.

This amounts to a denial of the complexity of Gegos relationship to the pre-war period. In
my view, it would be wrong to interpret Gegos work of the sixties only in terms of neurotic anxiety
formation after the traumatic experience of enforced exile. However, Auerbachs account
encouraged this view by neutralising a tainted past and thus denying Gego the capacity to
critically and constructively engage with history. By suppressing the discussion of Gegos relation
toward the culture and place from where she had to flee under threat of extinction Auerbach, in fact,
invites psychologically simplistic interpretations that identify formal abstraction with a
displacement of unresolved contents. Yet, it cannot automatically be implied that Gego, by
establishing continuity with Bauhaus aesthetics, sought to deflect from issues that she avoided
addressing. I suggest that her projection of a positive self-image, which prevails throughout the
sixties, needs to be seen as one stage within a much larger process. If disappointment and a sense of

See for instance Helmut Heissenbttel, Stuttgarter Architektur, Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt, Stuttgart, 1979;
Franz Schulze, Mies van der Rohe: A critical Biography, University of Chicago Press, 1985; Jrgen Joedicke,
Stuttgarter Architekturschule, Kramer Press, Stuttgart, 1995.
Ruth Auerbach, Gego: Constructing a Didactics, p. 407. The quote is taken from Jrgen Joedicke, Internet
article published online as Stuttgarter Architekturschule. First published in Architektur und Stadtplanung,
Kramer Press, Stuttgart, 1995.
As we have seen in the first part, Bonatz was known for his anti-Semitic remarks in connection with the
Weissenhof controversy and his reaction to her disclosure that she was Jewish seems to have left an extremely
strong, possibly traumatic, impression on Gego.
betrayal were part of Gegos feelings toward pre-war German culture she necessarily had to
embrace first an alternative social reality. And, if she sought to defend herself against debilitating
depression, but also against anger, by constructing a narcissistic self-image this must not be seen as
a negative strategy. Ambivalent feelings in relation to the past can be considered as a driving force
for the creation of an optimistic persona. The work of repair by means of which the damaged self
one that is fragmented - can recover a sense of wholeness and loving attachment to the world may
well have been at the centre of Gegos creativity.
Precisely such therapeutic self-healing forms the basis of Johannes Ittens pedagogy.
Further, its esoteric and symbolist
aspects are part of Gegos recovery of the fragments of German
culture. Ittens curious Bauhaus universe was sustained by a quasi metaphysical belief in human
creativity and the regenerative forces of nature. Its idealism stood in stark contrast to the
functionalism promoted at the Bauhaus by Walter Gropius and later by the Swiss architect Hannes
Meyer (1889-1954). It appears that Gego chose quite intuitively a philosophy that matched her
own liberal thinking but would also be of benefit to, what she thought of as, an underdeveloped
society. Devised between 1919 and 1923, the Vorkurs applied a neo-liberal pedagogy which was
inspired, among others, by the writings of the Swiss pedagogue Heinrich Pestalozzi (1746-1827),
the German philosopher and founder of Anthroposophy, Rudolf Steiner (1961-1925) and the Italian
pedagogue Maria Montessori (1870-1952). Ittens liberating artistic practice clearly has sources in
turn-of-the-century idealism which often combined Enlightenment thought with the aesthetic and
religious rituals of Eastern mysticism. This latter aspect is of significance with respect to Gegos
German Jewish identity. Eastern mysticism was part of the Bauhaus environment and pointed back
to the Wilhelmine period and German Romanticism. In the early nineteenth century theories

Important to note in this context is that Gego kept in her library a copy of C.G. Jungs last book, Der
Mensch und seine Symbole in a German edition of 1968. Jung, C.G., Der Mensch und seine Symbole, Patmos
Verlag GmbH & Co. KG. Walter-Verlag, Olten, 1968. Originally published in English as, Man and his
Symbols, after Jungs death edited by M.-L. von Franz and John Freeman, Aldus, London, 1964.
emerged which argued for the links between and superiority of Indo-Germanic languages. It formed
the basis for the idea that Germans had their ancient roots outside European soil in a quasi
transcendental world. It was used later by the Nazis to argue the purity and a supposed superiority
of the Aryan race.
Indeed, Ittens subscription to a German racist ideology can be deduced from
remarks such as To find unity within the self was the great discovery of the white race. [] Only
within the white race was the unification and balancing out of the three temperaments achieved.

Many pseudo-religious practices introduced by Itten at the Bauhaus give evidence of his fixation on
purging and inner cleansing. (Fig. 18 Paul Citroen, Mazdasnan-Kuren, 1922) Followers of
Mazdaism, a sect founded in the late nineteenth century on the basis of the Persian Zarathustran
cult, understood the body as the temple of the living god.
Ittens non-cooperation, his self-
aggrandising theatricality and his inability to adapt to the new ethos of a fast changing Bauhaus led
to his expulsion in 1923.
Cultural baggage often re-emerges in the unconscious searching of an artist and among the
texts collected in the recently published anthology of Gegos writings we find a section entitled
Tantra. In this short text, Gego described geometric shapes as imbued with a symbolic or mystical
meaning and attempted to use geometric shapes in order to explain her own concept of human
sexuality. More precisely, she clarified the relation between male and female, which she set in clear
opposition and defined by way of the conventional attributes as active-male, passive-female, and
within the dualistic cosmology of Eastern mysticism. In the text anthology, the authors introduce
this section with, One of the most surprising discoveries in the Sabiduras bundle was the text

For an account on the construction of the Aryan myth at the beginning of the nineteenth century see, Lon
Polikov, Histoire de lantismitisme, Tome 2, Lge de la science, Calmann-Lvy, Seuil, Paris, 1981, pp. 163-
Die Einheit in sich selbst zu finden war die grosse Entdeckung der weissen Rasse. [] Erst in der weissen
Rasse kam die Vereinigung und der Ausgleich der drei Temperamente zustande.Johannes Itten, Rassenlehre
und Kunstentwicklung, Masdasnan, Jahrgang 16, 1923, H. 5, S. 91, Hanish, 1933. Reference taken from Das
Frhe Bauhaus und Johannes Itten, exhibition catalogue, Kunstsammlung zu Weimar, 1994, p. 88.
entitled Tantra, since there was no previous evidencewritten or oral-to suggest that Gego was
interested in or had studied Eastern philosophies or religions. [] This text may date from the early
1970s, coinciding with Tantra. Arte de la India, an exhibition of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century
Indian watercolors that was held in December 1971 at the Galera Conkright in Caracas.

We cannot say conclusively what motivated Gego to adopt Ittens pedagogy but I propose
an interpretation that gives less importance to its esoteric aspects but instead highlights its social
idealism. For Gego it had educational value mainly because it encouraged students to free
themselves from inhibitions and develop highly individualistic forms of expression. It was used in
order to develop self-critical thinking and confident aesthetic judgement. Gego found here the
idealism of the European Enlightenment that had sought to free and at the same time tame the
subjective drives. In fact, Itten had spent his formative years in Bern and Geneva, which are both
towns historically and culturally oriented towards Paris. Certainly since the French Revolution, this
part of Switzerland was strongly influenced by the French Lumires rather than German thought.

Ittens free interpretation of French Enlightenment philosophy has retained the strong
interdependence between abstract thought and phenomenological nature. This seems to have
attracted Gego instantly. In Ruth Auerbachs description we are impressed first by the flexibility
and the playfulness of Gegos pedagogic concept, Gegos introductory course of architecture

Wick, Rainer K., Teaching at the Bauhaus, chapter 5: Johannes Itten, Hatje Cantz, London, 1999, p. 120.
Huizi and Manrique, Sabiduras, p. 91.
Itten was familiar with French Enlightenment philosophy and especially with Jean-Jacques Rousseaus
(1712-1778) moral pedagogy developed in mile, his educational novel of 1762, which was confiscated
immediately after publication and forced Rousseau to flee from French prosecution to Yverdon in
Switzerland. Rousseaus pre-revolutionary philosophy assumed that a subject at birth is essentially good but
becomes bad, in todays terminology, neurotic, under the corrupting influence of culture. Thus, the liberation
that Rousseau sought had not the purpose of returning the individual to a state of innocence, as many of his
interpreters wrongly claim, but to allow the subject to develop consciousness and sensitivity for his negative
as well as positive drives. Education has, according to Rousseau precisely this aim, namely to allow an
individual to develop his own intellectual and emotional tools for self-mastery. Only then will he or she be
capable of meaningful social interaction and is given the chance to become a responsible citizen.
proposes an abstract organization of space, independent from the reductive learning of the
functions, creating positive, virtual and continuous volumes, using dots and lines. To accomplish
this she uses the simplest materials: thread, straw, balsa wood, wire, etc. combined with planes
made of construction paper, paper cardboard, wood, fabric, tin plates, plastic sheets, etc.

Auerbach remembered Gego as instructing her students that, These works are research-oriented.
Much more than straws and pieces of wood, these materials represent elements of structures; and,
while composing you work as nature herself does, looking for relations among (the) lines and
creating given spaces, but learning all the while that you are far from being on the same level as that
genius called Nature, because your structures are imperfect.
Gego taught an artistic practice in
which personal experience had great value but, nonetheless, always remained inferior to the far
more superior laws that lay beyond subjectivity. According to Auerbach Gego defined her goals as
to stimulate and to train creative skills and visual sensibilities, as well as to uncover the reasons
behind mans sensitive reaction to visual perception.

Here, I wish to introduce a last important reference point to pre-war German culture, which has
figured large in the literature on Gego; the impact of Paul Klee. His influence has been suggested by
several Latin-American critics among them Iris Peruga and before her by Eliseo Sierra. Their
observations were based on the superficial resemblance between the Klees and Gegos use of
finely drawn parallel lines in prints and drawings. Peruga wrote, the relationship between Gegos

Ruth Auerbach, Gego: Constructing a Didactics, p. 408.
Ruth Auerbach, Gego: Constructing a Didactics, p. 408.
Ruth Auerbach, Gego: Constructing a Didactics, p. 408. This raises a problematic that is central to all
discussions on the legacy of the European Enlightenment and concerns specifically the position of Jews and
of women within enlightened societies. The relation between creativity and visual perception deserves here
particular attention because in visual experience, pleasure and the projection of prejudice often merge. Thus
liberation, pleasure in looking and (negative) aesthetic judgement form a nucleus of contradictions of which
Gego was well aware. Visual perception as normative judgement were the elements of Nazi ideology that
allowed for the categorisation of Jews according to their physiognomy, arbitrarily defined visual
characteristics that led to their systematic exclusion and finally to extermination.
work and Paul Klees is unmistakable, not only in formal terms - as evinced in some of her
drawings - but above all, in the refined and humanist spirit common to both.
Interesting is the
second part of the sentence in which Peruga emphasised a cultural rather than formal similitude
between the two oeuvres. Her intuition that both artists stood for an old world refinement
highlights the social positioning that had taken place in the process of Gegos integration into
Venezuelan society. However, her interest in Paul Klee is confirmed by the fact that she held Will
Grohmanns biography
of the artist in her personal library. Grohmann wrote a very moving
interpretation of Klees late oeuvre and account of the last years of his life. Thus, positive
identification with another victim of Nazism, more than aesthetic concerns, might have attracted
Gego to Klee.The subject of death, which features so strongly in Klees late oeuvre coincided with
her own symbolic death when she was forced into exile. Indeed, in aesthetic terms, the differences
between Gegos and Klees oeuvre outnumber their similarities. While Klees oeuvre is
characterized by a strong figurative and narrative impulse, by way of which he articulated his
pantheistic concerns with highly symbolic and spiritual meaning, Gego remained attached to logos
and refused figuration. The sometimes brutal tone of Gegos abstract works seems in strong contrast
to the melancholy timelessness, the gentleness and lyricism of Klees painterly oeuvre. I suggest
that it was precisely Klees difference, his ability to articulate complex emotions in a narrative form
that had attracted Gego, and perhaps, allowed her expression of her own sadness.

Iris Peruga, Gego: The Prodigious Game of Creating, Gego. Obra Completa, 1955-1990, Fundacin
Cisneros, Fundacin Gego, Fundacin Museo de Bellas Artes, Caracas, 2003, p. 380.
Will Grohmann, Paul Klee 1879-1940, Lund Humphries, London, 1954.
Continuity and the Visual
The following short statement sheds further light on Gegos thinking, I work without breaking or
opposing architecture. The space determines the work and the latter, once it is completed, can
change the effect of the former.
Such acceptance of existing structures, of explicit non-resistance
and even scorning of subjectivity, would certainly have been laudable in sixties and seventies
Venezuela. Gegos remark on the integration of her art into architectural spaces suggests that
pressures to conform, or resist, modernist trends were high. The second half of her statement
acknowledges an influence that is exerted on the object rather then by the object. To Gego, a non-
specific anonymity does seem to have promised a freedom beyond the values and forms of a
specific society. Gego suggested a dialogue between her structures and the existing space which, so
she implied, creates in the viewer the very consciousness of it as space. Gego thus proposed two
distinct ways of experiencing her work. In the first half of her statement, Gego suggested a passive
absorption of influence and in the second an active response to it. Further, this dialogue is taking
place within an imaginary space in which the art object literally acquires magical powers. Perhaps,
Gego thought this interaction in terms of a critique or commentary on a Venezuelan reality. It is
evident, for instance in the Escultura for the Banco Industrial de Venezuela (Fig. 11 Gego
Escultura, Banco Industrial de Venezuela, 1962) that from the early sixties onwards, her
structuralist thinking was superseded by a shift toward surface reflectivity. The article from which
the above is quoted is entitled Gego: Vengo de doblar superficies. This suggests that she was
very conscious of an impulse to doubling by means of which she created a quasi copy of an already
existing surface (superficie). Re-presentation is represented again in a reflection on it. The sculpture
designed for the Banco Industrial de Venezuela in 1962 allows me to demonstrate this strategy and
show that Gegos critique was tied to a strongly visual that is, fetishistic sensibility.

Quoted from Teresa Alvagenga, Gego: Vengo de doblar superficies, El Nacional, September 23, Caracas,
Ruth Auerbach described Gegos first public sculpture in the following terms, The
sculpture, comprised of surfaces of parallel lines arising from the intersection of their transparent
planes, is articulated in a tower-like spiral that rises and ascends into space.
Her interpretation
emphasises a central axis around which the sculpture is erected in space. This disregards, precisely,
what Gego confirmed in her own words, namely the ambition to integrate her art into the
architectural space. In Gegos logic the subjective is consciously decentred in the spectacular
interaction with the existing structure. Auerbach did not mention the intense reflectivity of the
surfaces, the quasi mirroring effect of the metal tubes.
This is so explicitly important to Gegos
design that it is hard to understand how Auerbach could neglect to point it out in her text. Her
constructivist reading conveys an imagined author positioned at the centre of the work, while Gego,
so I suggest, envisioned a mobile external viewer. I propose that the theme of this work is the
interaction of subjects in public spaces, the fetishistic engagement with each other. To observe or be
seen by the other is the very game of the modern city and as an architect Gego was most certainly
conscious of this everyday drama. In this particular piece the viewer is stimulated, via a visual
effect, into changing his or her position in relation to the object on display as well as in relation to
other viewers. This is further highlighted by Gegos clever use of the space which allows a view on
the object from different levels of the staircase. This interpretation is supported by the fact that the
Escultura of 1962 was an enlargement of an earlier piece, (Fig. 19 Gego, Ocho cuadrados, 1961)
based in turn on an idea announced in a drawing already in 1959. (Fig. 20 Gego, Sin ttulo, 1959)
Thus, Gego used in 1962 formal strategies that have been part of her vocabulary since the late
fifties, a time when she was engaged primarily with Cinetismo, and hence optical effects. The
moire effect was somewhat lost in the enlargement, nonetheless, it is visuality, that is, surface

Ruth Auerbach, Gego: Constructing a Didactics, p. 408.
Surface reflectivity is very strong of course in photographic reproductions of work because of the use of
flash light. Yet, I have had the opportunity to see this specific work in person and I can confirm that the effect
is authentic.
reflectivity that physically animates the viewer and stirs his or her curiosity.
A multiplicity of
possible points of view creates a quasi baroque spectacle and cinematic experience dependent on
the viewers own movement.
A very different reflectivity seems at play in Gegos Espiral sin fin of 1958 which forms
part of the collection of the Museo de arte contemporneo. (Fig. 21 Gego, Espiral sin fin, 1958)
Again, parallels to a work by Max Bill seem plausible to suggest (Fig. 22 Max Bill, Reverse Spiral,
1944-48) with the important difference that Espiral consists of a metal band turning around an
invisible axis and thus implying an inside and an outside space. In contrast, Bill had developed,
since 1936, the idea of a simultaneous inside and outside in sculptures based on the geometric
figure of the Mbius strip. He would employ it, as a symbol for continuity, throughout the post-war
period. In this case however, it is the simultaneity of a centring and a decentring pull, typical of the
spiral, that creates a dynamic that can be said to symbolise eternity or the infinite. It is perhaps
characteristic of the optimism of a particular class and generation.
Continuity is also the theme of
one of Bills works now held in the sculpture garden of the Museo de Bellas Artes (Fig. 23 Max
Bill, Doppelflche mit sechs rechtwinkligen Ecken, 1948-1979 and Alejandro Otero, Title unknown,
undated). In Bills oeuvre surface reflectivity functions simultaneously as a mirror to the external as
well as projection of an internal world. Returning the gaze of the other and reflecting on the self are
indistinguishable. The similarity between Gegos and Bills employment of reflective surfaces
seems, at least to me, beyond doubt and I will demonstrate its importance for Gegos work in the
last chapter.

Gego might play here with a profound human desire to see what lies behind the visible surfaces of an object
within a specific spatial situation. This was taken up as a philosophical problem by Maurice Merleau-Pontys
(1908-1961) in Phnomeneologie de la perception published by Gallimard, Paris in 1945.
This is interesting seeming that Gego and Bill are of the same generation, born 1912 and 1908 respectively,
both died in 1994. They consciously sought the reformulation of a per-war Bauhaus aesthetic and both applied
Geometry as a metaphor for universal values capable of healing the rupture and bridging the abyss opened up
by the Second World War.
Lastly, I want to introduce Gegos application of mimetic strategies, for instance, in her
borrowing of moire effects from her fellow Cinetismo artist Jess Soto. (Fig. 24 Gego, Esfera en
hexaedro, 1964 and Fig. 24a Jess Soto, Estructura en hierro UCV, 1957) Similarly, Partiendo de
un cuadrado of 1958 is very close in style to works by Pedro Briceo. (Fig. 25 Gego, Partiendo de
un cuadrado, 1958 and Fig. 25a Pedro Briceo, Despliegue Interno-Externo del Prisma, 1958)
Gegos uninhibited copying of techniques and forms, invented by fellow artists, deserves mention
because of its important role in acculturation processes and I will return to the issue of Gegos
mimetic appropriation in chapter III. For the moment, I want to note only that until 1969 Gego
made use of any material or idea that inspired her, even if it was the idea of another artist.
Apparently, it did not matter to her whether she produced an original or simply a copy. In some
instances she even made use of technical drawings straight out of textbooks. (Fig. 26 Gego, Cuatro
tetraedros, 1966 and Fig. 27 Keith Critchlow, Order in Space, technical drawing, 1965) It is
conceivable that Gego thought of these objects as mere experiments rather than accomplished
works of art. However, this spirit of appropriation and collaboration between artists seems to have
evaporated by the late sixties and Gegos friendship with many former Disidentes, notably with
Jess Soto and Carlos Cruz-Dez, cooled down considerably.

To some extent, the break with Cinetismo and its exclusive concern with visuality freed
Gego to develop a more independent formal vocabulary. With the installation of the first
Reticulrea in 1969 a new phase of her career began.
With this work Gego enacted a turn toward

Although, they have exhibited together in group shows and even collaborated on film projects, I found not
the slightest mention of Gego in any of the accounts on Sotos or Cruz-Dez careers. Not in the exhibition
catalogue of Sotos 1997 show at the Jeu de Paume in Paris or in the catalogue of the recent exhibition of
kinetic art, Loeil moteur in Strasbourg. Both catalogues have been co-written by Arnauld Pierre, who
claims to be an expert not only on French Geometric Abstraction and Cintisme but also on Soto and the
Venezuelan Cinetismo context. The absolute silence imposed within the French art historical literature on
Gego and on her relation to Soto or Cruz-Dez is startling, in fact, a taboo.
The title Reticulrea was suggested by Gegos close friend the art critic Roberto Guevara. The word
Retcula refers to a network of lines or net thus, Reticulrea implies an area of nets. Guevara continued to
an imaginary space or more intimate internal landscape. In chapter III, I will explore how this might
be related to the notions of a Protestant self-reflexivity and moral self-effacement. At this point it
must suffice to describe Gegos inward turn in terms of an exploration of the self (Selbstfindung),
which implied also a certain degree of emancipation from the social space. While acknowledging
geometrys universal value, thus confirming her idealism, Gego appears to have become
increasingly conscious of her own engagement as individual in the artistic process. The
conventionality of geometry, and her consciousness of it, freed Gego to explore the psychological
or, at least, more individual aspects of her art praxis. The question, which might arise at this point,
of where to locate, within the material object, Gegos experience of her intentionality is to me the
false question to ask. The effects of intentionality cannot be identified in an art object itself because
intentionality is linked to a consciousness of the object and hence, situated within the thinking
subject. It is logical that objects do not have consciousness and in turn, the authors consciousness
cannot be manifest in an objects material presence, except through my interpretation.
Consciousness of a person is then the object of my interpretation, that is, my subjectivity. Or, to say
it a different way, to locate traces of the artists subjectivity within the art object is an act of
interpretation and its findings are not verifiable as truth. It is for this reason that I chose to ask
instead the question of what knowledge was available to Gego and Soto at the time and allowed
them to form consciousness of the historical conditions of their existence as individuals. The
question of what these two artists relation to historical objects was is at the heart of my thesis
precisely because, in my view, it is in the dialectic between material attachment and separation that

promote her work in essays and as a curator. See his Reticulrea de Gego, Ver todos las Das, Monte vila
Editores, Caracas, 1981, pp. 49-53; Para Estar con Gego, Ver todos las Das, Monte vila Editores,
Caracas, 1981, pp. 54-56; 'GEGO. Doing and Undoing Space', Bienal Internacional de Sao Paulo, 23,
Catalogo das salas especiais, Sao Paulo, 1996, pp. 150-69. For the reference of the title Reticulrea to
Roberto Guevara see, Mnica Amor, Between Spaces: The Reticulrea and its place in History, Gego. Obra
Completa, 1955-1990, Fundacin Cisneros, Fundacin Gego, Fundacin Museo de Bellas Artes, Caracas,
2003, p. 400.
consciousness and subjectivity emerge. However, before I can address the question of Gegos
individualism and how it affected her career I wish to explore in more detail how Soto managed to
mediate between his intentionality and highly abstract systems. For this purpose, I will need to turn
first to issues related to the political, social and philosophical discourses of post-war France.