- Carol Rama
- Arcadia (Ti amo… ti amo)
- signed, titled and dated 75 on the stretcher
- collage of leatherette and iron hook with bicycle inner tubes and metal plate
Greene Naftali Gallery, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner
Karen Archey, ‘Carol Rama: Ferite della memoria – Selected Works’, Spike 48, Spring 2016, p. 178, illustrated
Anne Dresse, ‘Foreign Bodies’ in: Exh. Cat., Barcelona, Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona (and travelling), The Passion According to Carol Rama, 2014-17, p. 36.
Carol Rama utterly defies categorisation. Traversing Surrealism, Abstract Expressionism, Minimalism and Pop hers is an oeuvre that stands outside of the Twentieth Century’s canonical artistic movements. Beginning in the 1930s in Fascist Italy and ending with her death at the age of 97, it is only now in the Twenty-First Century that the full remit of her pioneering recapitulation of gender, corporeality, sexuality, and desire is beginning to be understood. Executed in 1975 and comprising the artist’s archetypal use of bicycle inner tubes, Arcadia (Ti amo… ti amo) is quintessential Rama: in its formal economy it chimes with Minimalism and the materiality of Arte Povera, and yet in its insistence on the corporeal, this abstract composition recuperates a vision of the body outside of proscriptive heteronormativity. Operating in a subversive manner, Rama subverted normative binaries and opened out new modalities for an experience of unrestrained and unfettered corporeal subjectivity.
Her first known pieces are sexually explicit works on paper from the thirties and forties depicting unclothed women. In countenance the figures in her delicately painted watercolours are both orgiastic and melancholic; these naked female bodies possess hot-red lips, nails and extremities, and protruding, provocatively searching tongues; they are often depicted in the company of male figures boasting a profligacy of penises. It was censorship of these drawings by the Italian Fascist government following her debut exhibition at Faber gallery in Turin in 1945 that forced Rama to turn towards a language of abstract formalism. She thereafter became involved in the Turin-based Concrete Art Movement as means to “provide a certain order” and “limit the excesses of freedom” that was so explicit within her figurative work (Carol Rama cited in: Beatriz Preciado, ‘The Phantom Limb. Carol Rama and the History of Art’, in: Exh. Cat., Barcelona, Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona (and travelling), The Passion According to Carol Rama, 2014-17, p. 14). The bodily drives so readily overt in her earliest watercolours thus found transposition in the new materials and techniques that were experimented with and integrated into her practice.
With the onset of the 1960s, Rama developed a corpus of relief-paintings – or Bricolages – that channelled a proclivity for the bodily and the abject. Bearing a kinship with the sexual machines of Duchamp and his ‘ready-made’ legacy, Rama grafted inanimate objects onto canvases smeared and stained with apparent bodily excreta: fluid seepages and splashes of paint here evoke blood, urine, and phlegm amongst other corporal emissions. At the same time however, these pieces echo the formlessness of Fontana and Fautrier, and can be considered part of the inward-looking collective impulses of an artistic generation responding to the experience of something culturally unbearable: the Second World War. Rama was thus certainly attuned to developments in the European avant-garde. With the later 1960s, her increasingly sculptural work was consonant with the visual economy of the Italian Arte Povera. Writer and curator Beatriz Preciado has contended: “The elaboration of organic forms, the use of primary matter or industrial materials, the attention to the relation between art and subjectivity, the privileging of popular and traditional craft forms… All of these resources that are the characteristic operators of povera are present in the work of Carol Rama”; and yet, Preciado continues, Rama’s work is more “visceral and dirty than poor” (Beatriz Preciado, ‘The Phantom Limb. Carol Rama and the History of Art’, in: ibid., p. 19). In this corporeal manner, Rama sits squarely within the remit of a concurrent ‘Eccentric Abstraction’ as championed in the U.S. by Lucy Lippard for her 1966 exhibition bearing the same name. As included in Lippard’s historic show, the organic and part-object formalism of Louise Bourgeois and Eva Hesse find a close affinity in Rama’s visual lexicon.
During the 1970s – as readily attested to by the present work – Rama’s appended paintings were increasingly characterised by her decisive use of bicycle inner tubes. Echoing the pendulous black forms of Hesse’s rubber and latex Several (1965) – though lacking the swollen distension apparent in this work – Rama superimposed her canvases with flattened black rubber hoses hung from coat hangers moulded into the shape of a penis. Both phallic and flaccid, penis and udder, the effect is sexually ambiguous yet highly sensual: waterproof, skin-like and fetishistic, rubber is replete with provocative connotations. Moreover, for Rama, whose father ran a bicycle factory and tragically committed suicide after falling into bankruptcy, this material choice acts as both a tribute to, and a symptom of, lasting familial trauma. Indeed, akin to many twentieth-century female artists whose biographical narratives have been somewhat over-determined (such as Louise Bourgeois and Yayoi Kusama), much has been made of Rama’s psychobiography. To reduce her practice to that of the hysterical neurotic and self-taught outsider, however, is to grossly overlook the innovation and pioneering magnitude of Rama’s career, which is now only beginning to gain the acclaim and recognition it so pointedly deserves.