Carol Rama: Esso Gallery

By Burton, Johanna | Artforum International, November 2003 | Go to article overview

Carol Rama: Esso Gallery


Burton, Johanna, Artforum International


"Nobody in the world has ever been more pissed off than me," Carol Rama said in an interview six years before she won the Golden Lion for lifetime achievement at the 2003 Venice Biennale. Indeed, fury plays a role in nearly every image and object the eighty-five-year-old artist has produced over the past six decades. A vibrant, nasty, eccentric, erotic, corporeal, and irrefutably feminine (one might say feminist) wrath is everywhere visible in Rama's oeuvre, yet hers is hardly piss without pleasure. She probably couldn't fathom a life without heavy closes of both, preferably delivered simultaneously. In 1996, for instance, mad cow disease became Rama's unlikely muse as the malady spread across Europe; a series of truly elegant, if macabre, drawings featuring taut, tumescent udders and other bestial part objects was the result of her enthrallment. (As far as I know, the last person to wax poetic about the orgasmic qualities of dying cattle was Georges Bataille, in his 1928 Story of the Eye.)

Rama's second solo exhibition at this gallery (her 1997 show here was her first in the United States) was a small but meaty sampling that spanned the years 1946 (a delicate, dirty watercolor tided Zef) to 1998 (a Mad Cow with distended sherbet-colored teats). Much of the iconography found in Rama's earliest works is carried through to her latest. Here are a few of the artist's favorite things (some visible in this show, some not): tongues (which may morph suddenly into snakes or penises or long, bloody intestines), teeth (animal and human), dentures, women's shoes, fox collars, rubber bicycle tubes, urinals, cigarette holders, cat claws, and ink-bottle droppers. (Perhaps it goes without saying that Rama holds Duchamp in high esteem; she was also friendly with Meret Oppenheim and Man Ray.) Among the works in this exhibition, a fetishistic 1972 drawing in marker of three shoes--sandal, wedge, and orthopedic--was oddly moving, and Boy, 1993, a Schielesque adolescent with alarmingly tangled fingers, gave off a perversely erotic charge. …

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