Belvedere 21 (Vienna, Austria): Maria Bartuszová
- Maria Bartuszová 1936–1996
- Object: 150 × 180 × 240 mm
- Purchased with funds provided by the Edward and Agnès Lee Acquisition Fund 2016
Folded Figure c.1965 is one of a group of six sculptures in Tate’s collection made by Maria Bartuszová between 1963 and 1973, a key period in her career. All six combine one or more organic forms made of white plaster, a material used by the artist throughout her lifetime. Folded Figure dates from a period when the artist was exploring the combination of multiple forms in one sculpture and is one of the earliest examples of these experiments. It comprises four elements piled up one on top of the other, their curving, bulbous forms apparently moulding into each other. Although the appearance of the work suggests the potential for being assembled and reassembled, it was not the artist’s intention that it should be reconfigured. Folded Figure can be displayed individually, or with the other sculptures from the group (see Tate T14516 and T14518–T14521), resting on a plinth, table or shelf. One of the sculptures, Untitled (Drop) 1963–4 (Tate T14516), is displayed suspended from the ceiling.
Originally from Prague, Bartuszová studied ceramics at the local Academy of Arts, Architecture and Design between 1956 and 1961. After graduating, she followed her husband, Juraj Bartusz, a prominent artist and member of the Czechoslovakian concretist group, to Kosice, where she lived and worked, isolated from the art world, until her premature death in 1996. Despite the constraints of the political system and economic hardships under communist rule, she pursued a practice as a sculptor throughout her lifetime, leaving behind a distinctive body of around three hundred works. During this time she explored traditional materials in new ways – such as creating works in bronze that appear weightless – while also using non-traditional materials to experiment with form and subject matter.
In the early 1960s Bartuszová had abandoned the rigid geometrical forms characteristic of her early aluminum sculptures and started to work with plaster, a material which due to its plasticity provided a fertile basis for the exploration of sculptural form. Over time plaster became her preferred medium and its connection with preparatory and transitory artistic processes informed the themes of her work. Bartuszová started her experiments after a brief period of association with the Club of Concretists (Klub konkretistu), founded in 1967 by a group of Czechoslovakian artists dedicated to continuing the pre-war tradition of abstract geometry and postulating the integration of fine art with industry. At the same time, in a group of works known as Cells, Bartuszová started to develop her idiosyncratic working practice in which she filled rubber balloons with liquid plaster before shaping them using only her hands. She experimented with this method until the late 1970s, describing it as follows:
At work I use pressure, tightening and partial weightlessness. I pour plaster into rubber balloons (also into tires), I’m molding the rubber by pressure or pulling, and letting the plaster harden in the rubber. I sometimes do it in water and thus I partially eliminate earth’s gravity … I think that shapes by themselves have their powerful psychological expression through which they are effective, for example: edged, shape, inorganic, shapes – cold, rounded organic shapes. Warmth, touching rounded shapes can induce a feeling of gentle touch, tender embracing – perhaps also erotic feelings; the area is silent, colourless neutral, impersonal.
(Quoted in Centre Pompidou 2010, p.54.)
Bartuszová’s sculptures were inspired by natural, biomorphic shapes (such as raindrops, grain, sprouting plants and nests) and the observation of the fundamental laws of physics, such as the force of gravity. The artist frequently photographed her works outdoors, staged within the landscape, thus underlining their close affinity to nature. Their fragility, vulnerability and temporality, in part due to the material qualities of plaster as a medium, hark back to the organic processes and transitory states – falling, melting, budding, and eventually decay – that inspired them. Bartuszová’s use of plaster, traditionally regarded as a preparatory material for sculpture and not an end product, reinforces the organic, transient nature of her work.
The seemingly soft, haptic sculptures bear visible traces and imprints of the artist’s hands on their surfaces. They thus retain a close connection to her body, remaining as a physical token of her role in their shaping. Their ovoid, delicate, harmonious forms have strong feminine associations, with overtones that are both maternal and erotic (in works such as Untitled 1973, Tate T14521). Writing about the carnal aspect of Bartuszová’s works, curator Marta Dziewanska has commented:
This gesture of touching and imprinting transforms (achronologically) into gestures even more radical than squeezing: those of cutting, stabbing, piercing or tearing. And so, even though Maria Bartuszová created exclusively abstract forms – unusually sparse or even minimalistic in expression – her art sizzles not only with violence but also eroticism, the intuition of damnation and the hope of memory, a deep reflection on the origins of life.
(Dziewanska 2014, accessed 21 September 2014.)
From the late 1960s Bartuszová produced works composed of multiple parts, which could be taken apart and intuitively reassembled. Folded Figure c.1965 is among the earliest examples of such sculptures, although it was not the artist’s intention that its forms should be reconfigured in any other arrangement than that shown. Bartuszová continued her experiments with these forms for the next decade. In 1976 and 1983 she used them in workshops that she ran for blind and visually impaired children, together with art historian Gabriel Kladek. The idea behind employing these sculptures in a workshop was to enable those unable to see to experience various forms and textures tactilely, as well as to prioritise and investigate the three-dimensional character of sculpture. The workshops encouraged the children to explore the objects, differentiating between geometric and organic forms and thus aiding the development of their own aesthetic imagination.
Zuzana Bartošová, ‘Maria Bartuszová 1970–1987’, in Documenta XII, exhibition catalogue, Kassel 2007, p.84.
‘Maria Bartuszová’, in Christine Macel and Natasa Petresin-Bechelez (eds.), The Promises of the Past: A Discontinuous History of Art in Former Eastern Europe, exhibition catalogue, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris 2010, pp.52–5.
Marta Dziewanska, Maria Bartuszová. Provisional Forms, exhibition text, Museum of Modern Art, Warsaw 2014, http://artmuseum.pl/en/wystawy/maria-Bartuszová-2, accessed 21 September 2014.
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Introducing the Slovak artist Maria Bartuszová, who created extraordinary, delicate and fragile-looking white plaster abstract sculptures whose biomorphic shapes were …