'Gerdago' was the nom de plume of Gerda Gottstein. Her signature, Gerdago, comes from the combination of her name, Gerda and her maiden name, Gottstein. This professional pseudonym is made up of her first name "Gerda" and the first two letters of her last name "Go". (Gerda Go)
Gerda Iro, Gerdago (1906 - 2004 ) was born in Vienna. She was a theatrical costume designer and sculptor, designing costumes for revues and movies, some of which were developed into a range of sculptures featuring futuristic looking modern dancers in bronze and ivory, often with very stylized headdress, and poly chromed cold painted bronze.
Gerdago trained in Berlin and Paris in the late 1920's and became an assistant to the architect Oskar Strnad (1879-1935). She then went on and studied theatrical design and made costumes for the theater. Whilst working for the theater she spent many days designing her own costumes and was discovered by film director Willi Forst while designing for the production "Femina". Gerdago first worked as a dresser on her first film work "Leise flehen meine Lieder" (directed by Willi Forst) which was a biopic of the composer Franz Schubert. Forst later hired her to design costumes for his films.
As she had married a non-Jew, Gerdago survived the Anschluss (the German invasion of Austria) although her parents died in concentration camps. After the war ended, Gerdago resumed theatre design in 1947 for the Vienna Citizens Theatre (Burgtheater) and also resumed film design. She specialized in period costuming and historical films such as the Sissi trilogy (based on the life of Empress Elisabeth of Austria.) Between 1947 and 1980 she designed costumes for at least 65 films. Her last film was the 1980 film Johann Strauß – der König ohne Krone. The V&A have six Gerdago designs for four of her films. Famous in her profession, Gerdago was sometimes called the 'Austrian Edith Head', although she never worked for any fashion enterprise and always remained in the background. Her ideas were produced into bronze and ivory figures and are appreciated for their bold and expressive style and form.
Her Art Deco sculptures, which were made in Austria by the Arthur Rubinstein foundry, feature elaborate and exotic costumes on figures which draw inspiration directly from the theater and cinema. They were created by a sculptor working from Gerdago's drawings and designs. The names of Austrian artists Karl Perl and Theodore Ulmann, who both worked with the Arthur Rubinstein foundry, have been associated with Gerdago sculptures, and the work of both is stylistically similar. For the moment the identity of this sculptor remains a mystery as nothing currently permits the identification of the artist who turned Gerdago's designs into sculptures.
Gerdago's sculptures are a wonderful example of what one would call a chryselephantine. That is a sculpture consisting of bronze (often cold painted) and ivory, gold or marble. The word, chryselephantine, is a very old word with roots going back to the 2nd millennium BC and is derived from the Greek word ‘chryos’, meaning gold, and ‘elephantinos’, meaning ivory. Combining these materials into valuable and magnificent statues is a very old tradition and dates back thousands of years. The seated statue of Zeus in the temple of Olympia, considered one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, is the most famous chryselephantine from ancient times. During antiquity and the middle ages, most of these were plundered and destroyed due to their high value.
In the early 20th century, the art form became popular again, particularly during the Art Deco period. This renaissance is what allows us to experience modern day masterpieces modeled from bronze and precious ivory. The sculptors of the Art Deco period produced work that reflected the fast changing world around them. Not unlike their Art Nouveau counterparts, women were the major subject matter for these artists. They were portrayed as bold, stylish and self-assured, depicted engaging in contemporary pastimes and sports. Other common motifs were erotic fantasies, exquisite characters from mysterious lands and figures from classical mythology. Children and exotic animals were also popular subjects. Paris, Berlin and Vienna were the dominant centers of production.
Almost 100 years ago, though, during the 1920s, it was a very different time when vast quantities of ivory tusks were shipped from the Congo to Antwerp in Belgium. Supply eventually out stripped demand and artists were encouraged to carve the excess ivory, sometimes given the material for free. As bronze continued to remain the sculptors’ preferred medium, particularly as modern foundry methods made bronzes more affordable, ivory was incorporated into the bronze sculpture, typically as heads and hands and legs. Modern Chryselephantine was born.