‘The Studio: A Tireless, Ongoing Space’, Geta Brătescu’s solo exhibition at Camden Arts Centre, pays long overdue homage to an artist whose work is strikingly fragile yet powerful at the same time. Not least, it also spans over almost half a century, even though the show largely focuses on works produced in the 70s and 80s.
Hosted in two large rooms, the sheer amount of work on display is at first almost overwhelming: ranging from installations to video-work to collages and photography, Brătescu’s multi-faceted approach to art-making is enthralling. From the first step into the gallery, it seems incredible all this was produced, in all this variety, by only one artist, and it’s difficult to decide where to start and where to go next: small sculptures here, a video there, a little cabinet devoted to the topic ‘circus’ in a closed-off corner, and large collages in soft colours and form – the show contains something fascinating for every taste.
Despite this, however, there also seems to be some kind of order: the two rooms of the exhibition look very different from each other; the first, a white cube dominated by earth tones and soft shapes; the second, a beautiful room with herringbone flooring, containing Brătescu’s large installation No to violence from 1974, her most political work in the show. Pitted against a white wall, its large black fangs visually take over the room, shown in different varieties in a photo-description displayed alongside it.
While the second room has something captivating yet cold and threatening about it, the first seems a bit lighter, allowing curiosity and excitement with all the corners to be turned, to discover another stunning piece of Brătescu’s work. Some of the most exquisite examples are placed right at the entrance in a small vitrine: three small sculptures, working with self-portraiture, mirrors and softly folded paper. They’re as playful as they’re intriguing, everyday materials transformed into near-magical objects. There’s something folkloristic about them, and with Brătescu’s frontal portrait, looking straight at the camera, sincere and beautiful, Frida Kahlo comes to mind. Yet, Brătescu’s work is, if anything, better: not just the miniature sculptures, but all her pieces in the first room have a light-heartedness, with different materials disclosing Brătescu’s work as a graphic designer and illustrator with a fascination for paper, used in a hundred different ways.
One of the most compelling things about the show is the physical act of making that’s pronounced with almost every work. This idea animates the notion of the artist in the studio, and emphasises this place of work as the ‘tireless, ongoing space’ that the exhibition title refers to. While Brătescu’s video prices and their photographic documentation are perhaps the most obvious examples of physical labour and engagement, her works on paper are just as notable: like the perfectly symmetrical circles constructed from smoked cigarette papers, carefully arranged and barely recognisable. Brătescu has also created textile works, which she refers to as ‘drawing with a sewing machine’. Again, there’s a strong sense of physical graft behind these works – and a ‘typically female’ one at that. Somehow, all Brătescu’s works contain a strong sense of femininity, in its most stereotypical sense. But she plays with it, subverts it, challenges it, pairing folkloric sculptures and sewn images with monochrome calligraphy in honour of Samuel Beckett and performative video art.
Even though the exhibition is no more than two, admittedly large, rooms, it seems bigger, because there are so many different things to see. This is excellent: it helps to engage with the work of an artist, who’s produced a staggering range of work over the past forty years or so, and still is in her studio every day, 90 years old by now. At this age, Brătescu will also take over the Romanian pavilion at the Venice Biennale, showing that ‘the Grand Dame of Romanian Conceptual Art’ is just as tireless as her work suggests. Given that her show at Camden Arts Centre is only her second solo exhibition in the UK, and her first in London, ‘The Studio: A Tireless, Ongoing Space’ is a must-see – no excuses.
Geta Brătescu: The Studio: A Tireless, Ongoing Space can be seen at the Camden Arts Centre till 18 June 2017, and is supported by the Romanian Cultural Institute, Belgravia.