Gerd Leufert - Life Gestures Works on Paper 1960-1995
In this exhibition of Gerd Leufert’s works on paper we feature his self-portrait in dry point from 1960; a never before shown series of inks and washes from the 1980s titled Ganchos (Hooks)and a selection from the 1990s series Ademán de vida (Life Gestures), among others.
The Ganchos relate to Gego’s Reticulareás in how they represent net-like lines united by a small circle, suggestive of the knots, washers, and hooks that tie together her wire pieces. The abstract, mostly monochrome Ademán de vida drawings were generated, as the title suggests, by a controlled but loose and expressive motion of the hand. All are on fine papers.
Gerd Leufert was born in 1914 in Memel, a seaport on the eastern coast of the Baltic Sea that had been invaded by Germany in the First World War 1. He studied in Germany at the Hanover School of Art, where Klee and Kandinsky had been notable earlier graduates.
He also studied graphic trade design at the Akademie der Bildenden Künste in Munich with the renowned professor Fritz Helmut Ehmcke. A member of Werkbund, an association that emphasized the social importance of workmanship and good design, Ehmcke’s modernizing efforts forged links between artists, architects, craftsmen and manufacturers that had an important imprint on the modern image in Germany.
In 1936 Leufert was conscripted to military service; during the war years he was sent to the front where he was wounded. After the war he worked as a graphic designer for various German publishing houses. Eberhard Hoelscher (1890-1969), publisher of Gebrauchsgraphik, wrote admiringly about Leufert for the famed graphic arts magazine.
Attracted by the economic affluence that the oil boom brought to Venezuela, in 1951, Leufert settled in Caracas becoming a citizen in 1954. He moved to Tarma, a small town on the Venezuelan coast with the artist Gego, (Gertrud Goldschmidt, 1912 Hamburg-1994 Caracas), who became his lifelong companion. Leufert was determinant in her development as an artist, as she confirmed that “Leufert gave me the confidence that what I wanted to do made sense.” Gego’s liaison with Leufert gave her a partner who intuitively perceived and steadfastly fostered her talent 2. Gego’s and Leufert’s close association in interrelated practices, was stimulated and questioned by each other.
Their collaborations included large scale public space projects integrating sculpture into architectural settings. As Gego explained in an interview, “Whenever they asked me to do something outside...the work was born as a joint effort. But that works well: one of you has an idea... it is very productive because Gerd was the designer and I was the architect, so our ideas converged well.” 3
Leufert had his first individual show in Venezuela, at Galería 4 Vientos, in Caracas. He traveled to Germany with Gego in 1954, the first trip to her birthplace after she was forced by the Nazis to leave Hamburg in 1939. They participated in Venezolanische Impressionen, a group show at the Wolfgang Gurlitt Gallery in Munich where Leufert showed monotypes and collages. Leufert had a solo exhibition at the San Francisco Museum of Art, and the Landau Gallery in Los Angeles in 1954. In September 1959, Leufert and Gego visited the United States to attend print workshops at the University of Iowa & the Pratt Institute in New York on a scholarship from the U.S. Department of State.
Leufert innovated graphic design in Venezuela, turning it into a dynamic medium using new typography and innovative layout design. From 1958 to 1967 he taught art and graphic design in Caracas, at the Universidad Central de Venezuela, the Faculty of Architecture and Urbanism, the Escuela de Artes Plasticas Cristobal Rojas and at the Design Institute Fundación Neumann-Ince.
Gego, Leufert and the Italian, Nedo Mion Ferrario (Milan 1926-Caracas 2001, who studied at Milan’s Fine Arts Academy and Technical Institute), brought to Venezuela the German and Italian, precise and rigorous technical skills, that resulted in Caracas becoming a world center of cutting-edge graphic design. The Venezuelan Alvaro Sotillo, who won the prestigious Guttemberg prize in 2005 for graphic design had been one of Leufert‘s students.
From 1959 to 1963, Leufert produced a series of monochromatic white paintings that according to Luis Pérez Oramas (a distinguished curator at the Museum of Modern Art in New York), were, after Reverón’s and Alejandro Otero’s white canvases, the most important paintings produced in Venezuela. 4
Leufert‘s work for the Museo de Bellas Artes, Caracas, where he was curator of drawings and graphic design from 1968 to 1973 resulted in a lively period of intense activities and significant projects. His friend, the Museum director Miguel Arroyo, gave Leufert ample support. Under his charge, the museum published numerous catalogs many of which Leufert designed.
Among his innovative and unconventional installations, he curated Gráfica Uno, an important overview of the graphic arts in Venezuela, and in 1966 he started a project titled Sobre papel (On paper), to regularly exhibit works on paper at the Museum. The same year, he presented Visibilia, a book and exhibition that was a lesson in integral design, showing the book’s contents as a visual experience by his large-scale wall paintings and sculpture-like pedestals designed by Gego. In 1985, Leufert painted Nenias, large biomorphic murals on the museum’s walls. The catalogs for these exhibitions, were art works in themselves that won international design prizes.
After retiring from the Museo de Bellas Artes, Leufert traveled extensively in Europe, the United States, Mexico and Central America. Upon his return to Caracas, he started to make sculpture in bronze, wood and stone, and resumed his work as an independent designer. In 1989 Leufert was awarded the Venezuelan National Fine Arts Prize.
As a photographer, Leufert published two books: Penthouse B, Gerd Leufert’s Photography, in 1990, with texts by Miguel Arroyo and Victoria De Stefano; and in 1992, Gerd Leufert, Crónica Apócrifa, a book of his photo montages. Leufert donated 42 works on paper dated 1960 to 1993 to the Museo de Bellas Artes, where they were shown in the 1994 exhibition Imaginary and Real Spaces, Inks by Gerd Leufert. In 1994 Gego died, followed four years later by Leufert.
In the United States, Leufert’s work is in the collections of: Museum of Modern Art, N.Y.; The Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; New York Public Library, the Pratt Graphic Arts Center, N.Y.; Rhode Island School of Design, Providence, R.I.; U. of Iowa, Iowa City, Ia.; Chase Bank, N.Y. & the Patricia Phelps de Cisneros Collection.
This exhibition, the first of Gerd Leufert’s drawings in the United States, was made possible by the cooperation of Elizabeth Gunz & Henrique Faria. We are grateful to them both and to the Gego Foundation in Caracas.
1. It was incorporated into Lithuania in 1923, until the area again yielded to Germany in 1939. After the war it was returned to Lithuania, and is now known as Klaipéda.
2. Robert Storr, Something’s Got to Give, Gego: Between Transparency and the Invisible, Museum of Fine Arts-Houston, 2006, p. 79
3. María Elena Huizi, Josefina Manrique. Testimonial 9, p. 205, Sabiduras and other texts by Gego, Fundación Gego, Caracas and MFAH, Texas
4. Guy Brett, Gego: Art, Design & the Poetic Field. Gego exhibition catalog, Serralves Museum, Portugal, 2006. p. 40
b. 1914 Klaipėda, Lithuania - d. 1998 Caracas, Venezuela
Gerd Leufert studied at the Hanover School of Art, where Klee and Kandinsky had been notable earlier graduates. He also studied graphic design at the Akademie der Bildenden Künste in Munich. After being conscripted and wounded during WWII, Leufert worked as a graphic designer for various German publishing houses.
Attracted by the economic affluence that the oil boom brought to Venezuela, in 1951, Leufert settled in Caracas, becoming a citizen in 1954. He moved to Tarma, a small town on the Venezuelan coast with the artist Gego, who became his lifelong companion. Their artistic collaborations included large scale public space projects integrating sculpture into architectural settings.
Leufert innovated graphic design in Venezuela, turning it into a dynamic medium using new typography and innovative layout design. From 1958 to 1967 he taught art and graphic design at various art schools in Caracas, and from 1968 to 1973 he served as curator of drawings and graphic design at the Museo de Bellas Artes, Caracas.
In 1989, Leufert was awarded the Venezuelan National Fine Arts Prize. Works by Leufert are included in such public and private collections as the Museum of Modern Art, NY; The Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; and the Patricia Phelps de Cisneros Collection among others.