Carol Rama (1918–2015)

Carol Rama. Photo: Pino Dell’Aquila.

CAROL RAMA has left us at the age of ninety-seven. But in reality, she was already gone three years ago, of old age—an old age that was long and full of accolades. (It had been somewhat the same for Louise Bourgeois when she passed away in 2010.) The works in Rama’s career, which began in the late 1930s and continued until the present year, are grouped by themes: the sensual and scandalous watercolors that led people to view her as a loose cannon in the city of Casorati; the works tending toward abstraction during the “MAC” period (the Concrete Art Movement); the mixed-media works, with informel inflections; the bicycle inner tubes on sawhorses or on tarpaulin; mixed media on canvas-backed paper from the past decade; the extraordinary “mad cow” series; and innumerable other inventions.

Rama is the figurative painter that the entire young audience of videos and installations—in other words, the viewers of contemporary art’s most frequently used technologies—favor and love. Why is this? It is because of her way of painting, assembling, and re-creating, which has always moved on many levels and has always ignored the canonical rules of fashion and opportunism. While in the 1930s or ’40s, Rama anticipated present-day taste, she has also always pursued, indomitably and passionately, a comical vein in her work, through which everything that is most sacred in pain and in love is distorted by an extremely refined sarcasm.

Carol Rama, Presagi di Birnam (Omens of Birnam), 1970, bicycle and camera tubes, iron, 6' x 4' x 24". Photo:  Museo del Novecento, Milan.

Her fantasies of signs, her tender and ferocious descriptions of nude amputees, frogs, knives, diabolical angels, flying dentures, faces with double and triple red tongues, abandoned shoes with no feet, brushes, razors, toilet brushes, renards (silvery foxes to be worn like stoles), wheelchairs and restraining beds, and finally cow udders cut out of rubber and attached to canvases, speak to viewers, transporting them into a late-Romantic dimension of misery and shuddering. The arrogant expertise with which, with great virtuosity, she mixed precious and trivial materials, gives her works a physical tangibility that is skillfully depraved.

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.

Lea Vergine is a critic and curator.

Additional tributes to Carol Rama will appear in a forthcoming issue of Artforum.