Maria Bartuszová



Not on display

Maria Bartuszová 1936–1996
Plaster, string and hessian
Object: 1050 × 1340 × 390 mm
Presented by the Estate of Maria Bartuszová and Alison Jacques Gallery 2018


Untitled 1985 is a wall-based relief in white plaster that consists of multiple, connected ovoid shapes that resemble broken eggs. The external surfaces are characterised by their rough texture, while the internal spaces are smooth with visible lines – the result of the impressions of strings on their surfaces – which resemble veins. Strings embedded in many of the concave surfaces remain partially visible and are knotted around the relief. They create a suspended lattice network that hangs in the empty voids, the overall effect shifting between abstract and biomorphic forms. The work is one of the most important examples of Bartuszová’s reliefs produced using the technique of ‘pneumatic casting’, a process she developed through the 1980s and the 1990s. Having always worked in plaster (as in her work of the 1960s and 1970s such as Folded Relief II 1966, Tate T14518) and with experimental techniques, she started to cast hollow ovoid forms using inflated balloons as a surface for pouring the plaster over. Her work from the 1980s, like Untitled 1985, features delicate empty shells, egg-shaped moulds tied up with string, eggshell-like reliefs and larger empty shells or large plaster reliefs with internally rounded cast forms. Using the physical qualities of air, by 1985 Bartuszová had perfected the technically demanding technique and the hollow forms she created out of plaster are characterised by a sense of intensity, fragility and visual complexity. She described her interest in the egg shape as exemplifying her connection to nature: ‘I think of all the trees of the world, flying birds, their nests with eggs and abandoned nests. And in this moment I also become a tree, a bird, an egg in the nest and abandoned nest.’ (Quoted in Garlatyová, p.8.)

Prior to this, Bartuszová had experimented with another idiosyncratic technique which she called ‘gravistimulation’. This involved pouring liquid plaster into rubber balloons or tires before shaping them by hand, without using any other sculptural tools. Untitled 1985 marks the culmination of Bartuszová’s earlier career and the first steps towards a new artistic language in her work. The structure conveys this change of direction, the elimination of gravity as a tool in her artistic production, and the creation of shapes she came to define as ‘negative volumes’ in 1985 and, the following year, as ‘endless eggs’. The artist has commented of such works: ‘The negative form is an imprint of the positive, perhaps also an imprint of what once was but no longer is. The division or the regular transition of the positive towards the negative can evoke the sensation of time and space.’ (Quoted in Christine Macel, Maria Bartuszová, The Promises of the Past: A Discontinuous History of Art in Former Eastern Europe, Centre Pompidou 2010, p.52.)

An emblematic figure of sculpture in Central Europe in the second half of the twentieth century, Bartuszová was born in Prague and spent most of her career in the Slovak city of Košice. She used mainly plaster throughout her lifetime and was inspired by organic forms and processes found in the natural world (for earlier works see Tate T14516T14521). Rock formations, rivers, forests, leaves and tree branches, as well as the observation of the fundamental laws of physics such as gravity, provided her with her artistic vocabulary which focused on the transformation of forms found in nature. Compositions such as Untitled 1985 explore existential concerns and Bartuszová’s interest in her own personal, psychological states. The pure white and fragile relief presents an illusion of impermanence and attains a metaphysical dimension that characterises Bartuszová’s sculptural output. Reflecting on personal experience, nature and space as a psychological phenomenon framed by the continuous transformation of natural processes, Untitled 1985 is significant in marking the breakthrough to the complexity of form and unconventional sculptural process for which Bartuszová has gained recognition.

Further reading
Gabriela Garlatyová, Touch! The Impressed Thoughts of Maria Bartuszová, unpublished manuscript, Research Symposium 2nd Part, Museum of Modern Art Warsaw, 27 September 2014.
Christine Macel and Nataša Petrešin-Bechelez (eds.), The Promises of the Past: A Discontinuous History of Art in Former Eastern Europe, exhibition catalogue, Centre Pompidou, Paris 2010.

Vassilis Oikonomopoulos
July 2018

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