Carol Rama - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Wednesday, February 12, 2020 | Phillips

Create your first list.

Select an existing list or create a new list to share and manage lots you follow.

  • Video

    Carol Rama, 'Pornografia due', Lot 38

    20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale, 13 February

  • Provenance

    Marcello Levi, Turin
    Carlina Galleria d'Arte, Turin
    Studio Copernico, Milan
    Walter Fontana Collection, Milan (acquired from the above in 2011)

  • Exhibited

    Turin, Carlina Galleria d'Arte, Carol Rama – il rosso e il nero, 16 May - 12 July 2003, p. 24 (illustrated, pp. 25 and 98)
    Turin, Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo; Museo di arte moderna e contemporanea di Trento e Rovereto; Gateshead, BALTIC - The Centre for Contemporary Art, Carol Rama, 9 March 2004 - 24 April 2005, p. 88 (illustrated)
    Museo di arte moderna e contemporanea di Trento e Rovereto, La magnifica ossessione, 26 October 2012 - 16 February 2014, pp. 8, 80 and 154 (illustrated)
    Barcelona, Museu d'Art Contemporani de Barcelona; Paris, Musée d'Art moderne de la Ville de Paris; Espoo Museum of Modern Art; Dublin, Irish Museum of Modern Art; Turin, Galleria Civica d'arte moderna e contemporanea, La Passion selon Carol Rama, 30 October 2014 - 5 February 2017, p. 253 (illustrated, pp. 142-143)

  • Literature

    The Passion according to Carol Rama, exh. cat., Museu d'Art Contemporani de Barcelona; Musée d'Art moderne de la Ville de Paris; Espoo Museum of Modern Art; Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin; Galleria Civica d'arte moderna e contemporanea, Turin, 2014 - 2017, p. 251 (illustrated, pp. 140-141)
    'Il Giornale dell’Arte: Eccentrica Erotica Eretica Carol Rama', Vernissage, no. 185, October 2016, p. 8 (illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    Over the course of almost eight decades, Carol Rama produced a prodigious body of work that, in its diverse formulations, eluded a single category and instead traversed figuration, abstraction, Surrealism, Minimalism and Pop. First developing a gentle figurative style in her Appassionata series – portraying hissing female characters cramped in medical appliances – Rama subsequently gestured towards abstraction, employing both organic and industrial materials to convey rawness, sensuality, imperiousness and delicacy. Cumulative and seemingly animate, Pornografia due, 1965, is a deft example of this stylistic shift, where passion becomes abstraction. Notably, the canvas was on loan at the Museo di arte moderna e contemporanea di Trento e Rovereto, and highlighted on the occasion of the artist's most important exhibition to date, La Passion selon Carol Rama, which travelled from the Museu d'Art Contemporani de Barcelona, to the Musée d'Art moderne de la Ville de Paris, the Espoo Museum of Modern Art, the Irish Museum of Modern Art in Dublin, and the Galleria Civica d'arte moderna e contemporanea, Turin, from 2014 to 2017.

    Demonstrating Rama’s capacity to experiment with pictorial matter, the present work forms part of her series of Bricolages, which she conceptualised alongside her peer and friend Edoardo Sanguineti in 1962. Sanguineti – a Genoese poet who met Rama in the late 1940s – described Rama’s bricolages with the words of Claude Lévi-Strauss: ‘the poetry of bricolage derives from the fact that it talks not only with things, but through things’; and in turn, the artist’s multifaceted assemblages were reflective of Sanguineti’s poems, replete with various languages and linguistic registers (Edoardo Sanguineti, quoted in Paolo Fossati and Maria Cristina Mundici, ‘A Career’, Carol Rama, Turin, 1999, p. 22). In the 1960s, Rama made two paintings titled Pornografia; an initial formulation in 1963, which she gifted to Sanguineti, and the present work in 1965, which remained in Italy until today. These ‘organic’ works presaged her predominantly rubber-based output of the 1970s, of which the material recalled flesh, aged skin, and the notion of the body more broadly.

    A defiant maverick, Rama consistently shunned diktats enforced by the alternating political bodies of her native Turin – most particularly the diminishing decrees articulated upon women. Rather, she created her own behavioural rules, of which her painterly portraits became emblematic illustrations. Her desire to free her body from social and political regulations manifestly transpired in her combative Appassionata series of the 1930s, but most prominantly came to life in the bricolages that defined the second half of her artistic practice. In these, harsh industrial materials – at times uncanny, at times hazardous – coexisted harmoniously on unsuspecting canvases, bringing a fierce, novel artistic language into the world.

    In its elegiac moments, Rama’s visual syntax evokes a kind of speech allowed only by the untouched virtue of childhood; in its crude, sometimes aggressive aesthetic, it recalls the unforgiving hardships of life, including disability, dementia, sex, and death. With Pornografia due, the large black mass radiating small black dots dispersed across the canvas recalls an aesthetic of spillage, or perhaps the delicate blossoming of a dark flower. Yet the title and material remind the viewer of the urgency that underpins a large portion of Rama’s work, and the sexual undertone that consumes it. In this perspective, the pictorial explosion could denote the discharge of bodily fluids; a possibility that the tar-black colour pushes even further, verifying Sarah Lehrer-Graiwer’s observation that ‘the body and its sensual, murderous ruin are never far from [Rama’s] mind’ (Sarah Lehrer-Graiwer, Carol Rama: Antibodies, exh. cat., New Museum, New York, 2017, n.p.).

    It only seems natural that the body – and the urgency that its sensory drives entail – would constitute the heart of Rama’s artistic production. It was roughly until 1926 that the young Rama lived in a state of bliss and insouciance, before experiencing a succession of events that affected her phenomenological perspective of the body. In the early 1930s, Rama’s mother Marta was committed in a mental asylum, and in 1942, her father Amabile committed suicide. These two tragedies came after the Great Depression, Amabile’s ensuing unemployment, and the fast decline of the family’s financial situation. From these losses, Rama felt a great sense of guilt, and as a result later affirmed that ‘the sense of sin became my artistic master’ (Sarah Lehrer-Graiwer, Carol Rama: Antibodies, exh. cat., New Museum, New York, 2017, p. 17).

    Rama would also pay frequent visits to her mother as a child, and by the same token, familiarise herself with patients who behaved freely, unaware of social diktats. ‘[…] I didn’t understand that I was in a madhouse environment 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?’ (Carol Rama, in conversation with Corrado Levi, Edoardo Sanguineti/Carol Rama, Turin, 1983, p. 79). Being a witness to her mother’s commitment into a clinic and her father’s self-inflicted death, Rama saw from a very early age just how complex a body’s associations could become, especially when placed in tension with psychological notions of health, ruin, and socio-political restriction.

    Growing from these experiences, the artist surely projected her particular vision of the body on her works – depicting it as misbehaving, contorted, truncated, liberated and wounded, in turn. Presenting result of this amalgamation of thoughts cultivated over decades, Pornografia due falls within a quintessentially Rama-esque category. It is a live bricolage; an assemblage to be experienced with all the senses.

Property from the Collection of Walter Fontana


Pornografia due

signed and dated 'Carol Rama 1965' lower right; further stamped 'CAROL RAMA' on the stretcher
mixed media on canvas
120 x 160 cm (47 1/4 x 62 7/8 in.)
Executed in 1965, this work is registered in the Associazione Archivio Carol Rama, Turin, under number 0001 and is accompanied by a photo certificate issued by the archive.

£150,000 - 200,000 

Sold for £150,000

Contact Specialist

Olivia Thornton
Head of 20th Century & Contemporary Art, Europe
+44 20 7318 4099
[email protected]


Rosanna Widén
Senior Specialist, Head of Evening Sale
+44 20 7318 4060
[email protected]

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 13 February 2020