Geta Bratescu is regarded as the ‘grande dame’ of Romanian conceptual art. Her work includes paper collage, photography, performance, illustration and film.
Bratescu was born in 1926 in Ploiesti. Between 1945 and 1949 she studied literature in Bucharest, and art at the Academy of Fine Arts under Camil Ressu; she was unable to graduate because her artwork was condemned by Communist censors. In 1969 she returned to study, having already worked as an arts editor, illustrator and animator.
During this period (1968-71, following Ceausescu’s stance against the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia) there was a brief, though illusory, liberalization of culture which nevertheless brought ‘Socialism with a human face’ and the freedom to get into abstract art. Bratescu took part in official art shows, was allotted exhibition space, and her work received good reviews. Yet, she also saw art as able to express “anti-official” ideas.
Her studio became an important element in her work, both as a stage for and a subject of exploration. Questions of self-identity, self-assertion, memory, history, conformity and deviation are prominent, and her work is characterised by the way it challenges dominant political and social ideology. However, although her sense of femininity is strong, she refuses to be associated with feminism: “If I am a feminist, it is through obstinacy. This means I wink at whatever happens.” This humorous and playful approach pervades her work.
Self-portrayal is another important part of Bratescu’s work, which includes many self-portraits in an expressionist manner and mirror-like reflections of her body.
She works in abstract or representational form, but across all her media she is drawn towards ‘the line’, whether the simple lines of her draughtsmanship, paper collage (“drawing with scissors”), her textile work (which she compared to “drawing with a sewing machine”), or the lines of the body performing in space.
Bratescu has been strongly influenced and involved in different forms of visual art. Her encounter on a trip to Warsaw in 1975 with the experimental Polish theatre company, Cricot 2, founded by Tadeusz Kantor, was crucial in shaping the idea of artwork as a meeting point of the visual and dramatic arts. Kantor’s productions, touching uncomfortable subjects usually ignored, fed into Bratescu’s own sense of “art’s territorial sovereignty”, the untouchable quality of art and artist.
Bratescu also worked with her husband, the photographer Mihai Bratescu, on a number of experimental projects (e.g. ‘Towards White’), as well as their family friend, the film-maker Ion Grigorescu (brother of Octav Grigorescu). She produced the film ‘Hands’, inspired by Charlie Chaplin’s dancing rolls, and featuring Bratescu’s own hands as animated objects.
For twenty years Bratescu was artistic director, illustrator and graphic designer for the magazine Secolul 20 (Romania’s renowned cultural magazine). In 2008 she received the title of Doctor honoris causa from the National University of Arts Bucharest. Major retrospectives were held at the National Museum of Art of Romania (1999) and in Berlin (2016). In 2015 she had her first UK solo exhibition at Tate Liverpool.
Entry authored by Dr Alex Popescu, Dec 2016