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Carol Rama: Antibodies
Edited by Massimiliano Gioni, Helga Christoffersen. Text by Sarah Lehrer-Graiwer. Interview by Lea Vergine. Contributions by Danh Vő.
While Carol Rama (1918–2015) has been largely overlooked in contemporary art discourses, her work has proven prescient and influential for many artists working today, attaining cult status and attracting renewed interest.
Rama’s exhibition at the New Museum brings together over 150 of her paintings, objects and works on paper, highlighting her consistent fascination with the representation of the body. This book celebrates the independence and eccentricity of this legendary artist whose work spanned half a century of contemporary art history and anticipated debates on sexuality, gender and representation. Encompassing her entire career, it traces the development from her early erotic, harrowing depictions of “bodies without organs” through later works that invoke innards, fluids and limbs. This catalog accompanying her New Museum exhibition features an interview with the artist by Lea Vergine, a new text by writer Sarah Lehrer-Graiwer, and a contribution by artist Danh Vő.
"Opera n. 9 [Work no. 9]" (1938) is reproduced from 'Carol Rama: Antibodies.'
PRAISE AND REVIEWS
As an artist, Rama has proven a force to contend with, time and again.
Italian visionary Carol Rama, whose drawings bring us into the optical inner sanctums of sexuality, self-doubt, and female power.
a resistance to reduction
STATUS: Out of stock indefinitely.
FROM THE BOOKINTRODUCTION TO LEA VERGINE'S INTERVIEW WITH CAROL RAMA
Carol Rama is one of the Italian figurative painters most revered by younger fans of video and installation art. Why so? Because her approach to painting, assemblage, and re-creation has always moved on many different levels, ignoring the canonical rules of fashion and expediency. In the 1930s and ’40s, Rama foreshadowed the tastes of our era and, until her death in 2015 at age ninety-seven, continued—indomitable and impassioned even at that truly biblical age—to pursue an attitude straight out of comic opera, where everything we hold most sacred about suffering and love is turned on its head through a highly sophisticated form of sarcasm.
Before she was even twenty, emerging from the Turinese cultural milieu of the 1930s and ’40s that gravitated around Felice Casorati, Rama fired off a hundred watercolors that pierced straight to the heart. She titled them Appassionata [Passionate]. They are a parade of horrors and marvels: fox stoles, false teeth, shaving brushes and razors, shoes bereft of feet, tragic beds fitted with restraining straps, wheelchairs housing truncated bodies. Pages and pages of sophisticated, seductive ferocity, an inventory where suffering and degradation are delicately veiled in pink and purple. Shreds and tatters of adolescence, startlingly explosive madeleines! Yet these chilling effigies are cloaked in fairytale, often taking on a mythic aura.
In the 1950s, Rama engaged in her own way with the theme of abstraction, producing paintings of a barbaric, morbid geometry: diamonds and lozenges float in lunar landscapes, a coded microcosm, a simulation of organic rhythms. And later on, she explored objects like fingernails, teeth, needles, and glass eyeballs. These works are always obsessive and cartoonish, even in the stitching, scraping, and patching that could be ascribed to the ferment of Art Informel.
In the 1970s, her interest turned to car tires, bicycle tires, sheets of plastic. In 1977 this exploded into the lugubrious splendor of the work titled Movimento e immobilità di Birnam [Movement and Immobility of Birnam]: a bundle of rubber tubes, quivering bladders, and industrial entrails dangling from a metal hook against a black leather background. Birnam is the name of the wood that moves towards Dunsinane; it moves because it is made up of soldiers bearing boughs for camouflage as they march to overthrow Macbeth. Here too we find the artist’s unholy affections, pious and obscene poses, her thirst for expiation, her fever for beauty. These are the spices with which Rama seasons the banality of everyday things: rubber tubes, tow hooks, and bits of leather.
The force of her turbid reveries wells up undiminished, like the passions of a mystic, in her mixed-media works of the 1980s. Registry of office charts and maps of the city of Turin seem to evoke medieval treatises, covered in human and animal figures that symbolize virtues or occult forces, absurdities springing from remote minutiae. These are enchanted atlases lined with demons and disreputable angels, shameless couples, grubs and snakes, bulls and frogs and lizards among flowering branches and green fronds—filled once again with fragrances and stenches, freshness and decay, and all the tender, wicked ashes of wit that make her paintings an endless odyssey.
Her fanciful marks and fierce descriptions of limbless nudes, frogs, knives, diabolical angels, flying dentures, faces with two or three red tongues—all the way to cow udders cut out of rubber and glued to the canvas—speak directly to viewers, transporting them into a late-Romantic realm of trembling and longing. The skill with which this virtuoso masterfully blended prized and worthless materials gives her works a physical tangibility that is expertly obscene.
FROM THE ARTBOOK BLOG
CORY REYNOLDS | DATE 6/26/2017
“When I was twelve years old I went almost every day to a psychiatric clinic to see someone,” Carol Rama is quoted in Antibodies, the catalog to the exhibition currently on view at the New Museum, “and there a great happiness was born because I didn’t understand that I was in a madhouse environment and the freedom I found in these people with their tongues sticking out, their legs apart or crouching down or in some other position: by now any person was more important than my family, I had abdicated and as it were renounced it. That’s where my early works originated from. And I saw these women, squatting on the ground, with their legs spread, their asses in the air, and I believed the entire world looked like this, no? That helped me a lot." Featured image is Appasionata [Passionate], 1939. continue to blog
FROM THE ARTBOOK BLOG
CORY REYNOLDS | DATE 6/27/2017
“As Jacques Lacan so pithily put it on the hospital wall, ‘Not just anyone can go mad,’” Sarah Lehrer-Graiwer writes in Carol Rama: Antibodies. “It’s not such a casual, easy thing to do. Ties to the world and civil decorum can be so hard to break. And even if you do, only the truly possessed and determined few can render their madness into enduring art. It takes chutzpah. It takes idealism. It takes extreme individuality and bravery. Madness expressed in culture is a genius for outrageousness, a talent for thinking against the grain and launching oneself beyond consensus and convention, a flair for risk-taking and fearlessness, an uninhibited attraction to danger and violence (psychological and emotional, if not also physical), and a special capacity for living alone in one’s head and self-generating meaningful stimuli. Madness demands autonomy, enormous energy, and total commitment. One should be so lucky. Carol Rama was blessed with all these rare qualities in spades. Featured image is Il piede maschile... [The Male Foot], 2005. continue to blog
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