Carol Rama - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale, Morning Session New York Wednesday, May 16, 2018 | Phillips
  • Provenance

    Collezione Pagliero (acquired directly from the artist)
    Private Collection (acquired from the above)

  • Catalogue Essay

    “I only feel safe when I am standing in front of a blank sheet. It is the only thing that relieves my fears. Painting is my transgression”
    Carol Rama

    Turin-born artist Carol Rama is at once completely distinct from and wholly engrained in the canon of contemporary art. Throughout her prolific career, which was neither fully understood nor celebrated until the later part of the 20th century, Rama existed outside of the movements which occupied post-war Italy, not staying aligned to any one artistic, literary, or feminist group for an extended period of time. Though loosely associated with both the Concrete Art Movement (MAC) and Arte Povera, Rama’s practice occupies a unique place alongside and separate from the artists who pioneered these schools; and while her work was praised by the Italian feminist groups like the Demystification of Authority and the Rivolta Feminnile, she is indeed separate from them too. On the occasion of her recent renowned 2014-2017 European retrospective, The Passion According to Carol Rama, Anne Dressen described Rama’s effect: “Expressionist, Surrealist, Pop, Minimalist: Rama is all those things, and sometimes even appears anachronistic, knowingly outside the big identified movements and, for that very reason, eternally contemporary” (Anne Dressen, ”Foreign Bodies” in The Passion According to Carol Rama, exh. cat., Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona, Barcelona, 2015, p. 36).

    Self-taught and trailblazing in her approach, Rama created works that are as much beautiful as they are unsettling. In fact, her first exhibition of sexualized figurative watercolor paintings held in 1945 at the Farber Gallery, Turin was immediately deemed “obscene” by the government. It would not be until the 1980s when her work would be publicly shown again, and not until 2003 at age 85 that she would receive her first major international award at the Venice Biennale. The present two lots from the 1960s and 1970s each occupy unique times in Rama’s oeuvre. Following the censorship of her early works, the artist turned to a more abstract aesthetic, creating a series of assemblages coined bricolages and vibrant drawings. Senza titolo from 1963 was created at the height of this period, characterized by its organic forms and abstract applications of media. Executed in spray paint and enamel, a splash of vibrant red occupies the upper center of the composition, from which two dark circles extend downward. The image references a sort of ambiguous bodily process, typical of the bricolage works, and contains, what Beatriz Preciado has aptly described, a “somatopolitical force [which] haunts Rama’s work” (Beatriz Preciado, “The Phantom Limb. Carol Rama and the History of Art” in The Passion According to Carol Rama, exh. cat., Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona, Barcelona, 2015, p. 15). Works from the late 1950s and early 1960s, such as the present lot, may seem like an abrupt departure from the censored, figurative watercolors of the 1940s, yet their references to the corporeal reveal the artist’s continued interest in the human body.

    By the late 1960s, the Italian art scene was dominated by the male members of the Arte Povera movement, including Alighiero Boetti, Mario Merz and Michelangelo Pistoletto. As such, Rama continued to exist in her own bubble outside of the popular sphere, and yet her late 1960s and early 1970s works, with their use of unconventional art materials and craft forms, can certainly be seen through the lens of the movement. The next lot from this section, Luogo e segni translating to “Place and Signs” is from a unique transitional period of Rama’s oeuvre, right before she turned back to figuration in 1979. Executed in 1976, this work features rubber from bicycle tires, applied with acrylic and leather collage on canvas in a beautifully Minimalist composition. The rectangle within a rectangle within a picture plane recalls the work of American artists like Josef Albers and Robert Mangold, and yet in its use of the industrial and found materials of rubber and leather, also resembles the work of Rama’s Arte Povera contemporaries. The almost monochromatic background, broken by a linear border of cerulean blue and a central shape of amber in the collage element is uniquely formal and material. Dominated by black, however, the work is quintessential to Rama’s practice. As the artist has said, “Black is the color that will help me to die. I’d like to paint everything black, it’s a kind of incineration, of wonderful agony. Black has always been a play, a medium for painting and for feeling a bit of a stage directory, like creating extraordinary set designs” (Carol Rama, quoted in Carol Rama: Antibodies, exh. cat., New Museum, New York, 2017, p. 124).

    In their unique composition and effect, the present two lots make palpable Rama’s importance to the trajectory of art history. As espoused by Beatriz Preciado, “Carol Rama is not contemporary to anyone. And yet, from outside the dominant historiography, she is affirmed as our most absolute extemporary.” (Beatriz Preciado, “The Phantom Limb. Carol Rama and the History of Art” in The Passion According to Carol Rama, exh. cat., Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona, Barcelona, 2015, p. 19) Following her most recent solo exhibition at the New Museum last year, her first solo museum show in New York, Rama stands at the center of the contemporary art discourse today, where it seems she will remain indefinitely.


Senza titolo

signed and dated "CAROL RAMA 1963" on the reverse
spray paint and enamel on paper
41 x 29 in. (104.1 x 73.7 cm.)
Executed in 1963.

$80,000 - 120,000 

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John McCord
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New York
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20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale, Morning Session

New York Auction 16 May 2018