Mundici Maria Cristina (ed.), Carolrama, exh. cat., Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam (1998), Milan/Amsterdam, Charta/Stedelijk Museum, 1998→
Vallora Marco (ed.), Carol Rama : the eye of eyes : works from 1937 to 2005, exh. cat., Palazzo Ducale, Genova (22 June–28 September 2008), Milano, Skira, 2008
La passion selon Carol Rama, Museu d’Art Contemporani, Barcelona; Musée d’Art moderne de la Ville de Paris; Espoo Museum of Modern Art, Helsinki; Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin; Galleria Civica d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea, Turin, 2014-2017
The self-taught artist Carol Rama regarded her activity as a therapy: because her inspiration was very much autobiographical, the material drawn from her memory was often transformed into strange figures, highly charged with pathos and an unusual and raw poetry. At the age of 12, she went through a serious breakdown and for a while reported to a hospital as a day patient, an experience which left a deep mark on her, as did the encounters she made there. When Carol Rama was 15, her mother, whose mental health was fragile, was committed to a psychiatric hospital, and her father committed suicide when his small bicycle factory went bankrupt. From 1936 on, the young woman produced drawings of truncated, mutilated bodies, and even of simple parts detached from those bodies. This work developed further in the form of watercolours and engravings. At that time she was close to the painter Felice Casorati, leading figure of the Turin Six, whose personality dominated the Turin art scene. Her first exhibition, which was due to be held just after the Liberation of Italy at the Faber gallery, was banned by the Christian-democrat government, scandalized by the overtly sexual and provocative content of her works. That youthful work would not be shown for some 40 years.
After the war, like many Italian artists, Rama moved in the direction of abstraction, which she saw as a chance to organize her compositions with a new rigour. She drew close to the Movimiento Arte Concreta of Atanasio Soldati, Gilles Dorfles, and Bruno Munari, which advocated a painting separated from any reference to reality. She was solidly rooted in the Turin scene: her work was championed with great constancy by her friend, the poet and academic Edoardo Sanguineti, whose tales also acted as inspiration for her. She was also close to the architect and designer Carlo Mollino, the art historian Paolo Fossati, and the architect Corrado Levi. In the 1960s, she reverted to a more personal inspiration and developed what E. Sanguineti has called her “bricolages” (makeshift works), thus borrowing Claude Lévi-Strauss’s word and applying it to those modest assemblages, made using available eclectic elements: she thus glued animal claws and cigarette-holders onto backgrounds worked with large patches of colour. In the following decade, she travelled in Europe and the United States with her gallerist Luciano Anselmino; it was then that she met Andy Warhol, Orson Welles and, above all, Man Ray. Her works focused on issues associated with the great postwar fears: the atom bomb, and the cold war. The series Napalm, formed by dolls’ eyes scattered in bunches over sprayed backgrounds, represented a striking image of guilt. The artist also worked on large formats with used inner tubes which she cut up and stuck into the canvas in geometric motifs, or else suspended on a horizontal axis: the irregularities of the rubber lend these ensembles their material quality.
The 1980s were years of recognition, in particular thanks to the art critic Lea Vergine and her exhibition L’Altra Metà dell’avanguardia (Milan, Rome, Stockholm, 1980). That event, devoted to women artists, enabled C. Rama to show her older works; stimulated by that success, she took up her initial style of figuration once more, presenting a fantastic and uninhibited humanity and bestiary. That activity was based on a desire and on impulses, which she externalized and displayed, symbolized by tongues being stuck out and an uncompromising description of bodies, and the genitals in particular. She drew a great deal, on recycled paper, either construction diagrams or architectural plans, and transformed that material into both sentimental and erotic images. After the exhibition at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam in 1998, major retrospectives were held abroad around her works. Apotheosis came in 2003, when Rama won the Lion d’Or at the Venice Biennale. The health panic around Creutzfeldt-Jakob’s disease inspired her to produce a whole series of works focusing on the mad-cow image.
Carol Rama, Opera n. 47, 1940, watercolour and pastel on paper, 34.5 x 24.5 cm © Photo: Pino Dell’Aquila © Archivio Carol Rama, Turin
Carol Rama, I due pini [The two pines], 1941, watercolour and pastel on paper, 33 x 23 cm © Photo: Pino Dell’Acquila © Archivio Carol Rama, Turin
Carol Rama, Bricolage, 1964, oil, lacquer, beads, and metal shavings on Masonite, 69.5 x 51.5 cm © Photo: Pino Dell’Aquila © Archivio Carol Rama, Turin
Carol Rama, Untitled (Bricolage), 1967, ink, doll eyes, glue on paper, 34 x 46 cm © Photo: Pino Dell’Aquila © Archivio Carol Rama, Turin
Carol Rama, Organismi ancora ben definiti e vulnerabili, 1970, collage of bicycle inner tubes on fabric, 110 x 110 cm © Photo: Pino Dell’Aquila © Archivio Carol Rama, Turin
Carol Rama, Movimento e immobilità di Birnam [Movement and stillness of Birnam], 1977, collage of bicycle inner tubes and iron hook with bicycle inner tubes on canvas, 150 x 129 cm © Photo: Pino Dell’Aquila © Archivio Carol Rama, Turin