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  • Provenance

    Private Collection, Europe

  • Catalogue Essay

    Adriana Varejão is an internationally renowned artist who has developed a powerful visual vocabulary. She studied at the Parque Lage Art School in Rio de Janeiro when it was at the forefront of the re-emergence of painting in the mid-1980s in Brazil, an occurrence that was paralleled worldwide and brought a rupture with the predominance of conceptual art during the previous decade.

    Varejão’s themes centred originally on Brazil’s colonial past often critically invoking the Baroque aesthetic and reinterpreting historical paintings from the 19th century in order to problematise the process of miscegenation and the violence perpetrated by the colonisers. Her paintings increasingly took the Portuguese tradition of painted ceramic tiles as a strategy through which historical citations could be articulated. Initially her canvases presented themselves as tiled surfaces with imagery appropriated from the sketch-books of the early explorers of Brazil, the so-called picturesque journeys. An important theme thus emerged and would direct her creative drive in increasingly subtle ways. By referring in her painted ‘tiled’ surfaces to early European depictions, particularly engravings, of the natives’ cannibalistic rituals, Varejão simultaneously invoked the legacy of Anthropophagy that arose in Brazil during the period of modernism in the 1920s when the poet and polemicist Oswald de Andrade associated the act of devouring one’s enemy with the Brazilian appetite for European culture. In this sense one can identify in Varejão’s work a process of devolution in which the icons of European culture are returned, albeit chewed and discarded.

    Varejão increasingly abstracted such a theme and by doing so, her painting began to breach the lines between media, often becoming indistinguishable from the domains of sculpture and installation. The surprising conjunction of tiles and meat became at this point sufficient in itself, loosing those precise historical references in order to suggest other, more ambivalent, narratives. The tiled façades would now conceal a thick visceral layer which in many works would burst out as if too heavy or powerful to be contained by the elegant delicate surface. Yet one could never be absolutely certain whether the visceral energy referred to pain or pleasure, whether the organic matter invoked a hidden vitality or a monstrous secret.

    In recent years we find Varejão refining the relation that her work has with the body and the visceral, even further. This has developed along two seemingly opposing lines of enquiry. On the one hand, through the fragmentation of the composition, often seascapes, while on the other, through the presentation of coherent yet ambivalent interior spaces. The triptych Mar Egeu for example appears to be constituted by three aged tiles, themselves appearing as surviving fragments of a larger picture or indeed different pictures, since the differing tones of blue and distinctive cracks on the surfaces make it impossible to determine any sense of continuity. From the title we know that these are sections of a maritime theme and the Aegean reference combined with the aggressive movements depicted conjures images of mythological narratives, of monsters of the ancient European imaginary. No bodies are depicted but one is left with an impression of horror, of fear that contrasts with the decorative, loose brushstrokes. This work has a close association with Varejão’s major installation at the specially commissioned pavilion at the Inhotin centre in Brazil where a tempest is also invoked through fragmented tiles.

    At first sight Ambiente II could not be more distinct. It depicts a tiled interior, a sauna perhaps. Here again it is the absence of the body that provides the enigmatic character of the painting. With this series of works Varejão is interested in relating spaces that despite having distinctive functions and belonging to different locations resemble themselves through the incidental use of tiles. The artist mentions having come across a book on architecture in Macau as the inspiration for this pictorial investigation. The common Portuguese colonial heritage thus led her to associate interiors from Macau with a variety of places from her native Rio de Janeiro, such as swimming pools, corner bars, meat markets and butchers. Once again the juxtaposition between pleasure and death is present. However, now it is the viewers themselves who respond to these suggestions, bringing their own subjective interpretations.

  • Artist Biography

    Adriana Varejão

    Brazilian • 1964

    The diverse work of Brazilian artist Adriana Varejão examines such themes as anthropology and miscegenation in contemporary Brazilian society. Born in 1964 in Rio de Janeiro, Varejão possesses an oeuvre spanning painting, sculpture, works on paper, installation and photography.

    A common motif in Varejão's oeuvre is that of the Azulejo, a traditional Portuguese ceramic tile. In her most famous series, Jerked-beef ruin (2000-'04), Varejão ruptures the ceramic tiles violently exposing a flesh-like interior. The stark contrast between the aesthetically pleasing blue geometric tiles and the visceral interior provides commentary on modern forms of colonization in contemporary Brazilian society.

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BRAZILIAN

20

Ambiente Virtual II

2001
Oil on canvas.
55 1/8 x 62 7/8 in. (140 x 160 cm).
Signed, titled and dated ""Ambiente II"- 2001, A. Varejão." on the reverse.

Estimate
$500,000 - 700,000 

Sold for $578,500

Latin America

14 & 15 November 2011
New York