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    Sale 2173

    Latin American Sale

    28 - 29 May 2009, New York, Rockefeller Plaza

  • Lot 64

    Adriana Varejão (Brazilian b. 1964)

    Azulejaria de cozinha com peixes (Kitchen Tiles with Fish)

    Price Realised  


    Adriana Varejão (Brazilian b. 1964)
    Azulejaria de cozinha com peixes (Kitchen Tiles with Fish)
    signed, dated and titled 'A. Varejão, brazil 1995, Azulejaria de cozinha com peixes' (on the reverse)
    oil on canvas
    55 1/8 x 63 in. (140 x 160 cm.)
    Painted in 1995.

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    This work is registered in the artist's online catalogue raisonné www.adrianavarejao.net.

    The poetics of Varejão's signature Azulejarias ("Tileworks"), in which fragments of hybrid bodies mingle allusively with images that recall Brazil's colonial past, reflect a present-day meditation on the language of the body and the legacy of cultural exchange. Through the metaphor of the replicated azulejos, the square blue-and-white tiles imported from Portugal during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, Varejão probes the conditions of trade and exchange that facilitated colonization. "The dense and livid inscriptions of history, culture, landscape, geography and the human body become transcendent," Louise Neri has remarked of Varejão's work, schematized and subsumed into a vast delirium of blue-and-white patterns and fragmentary images, rendered in a grid of paint and canvas to simulate a tiled wall of giant proportions.[1]

    The present work belongs to a series begun in 1993 entitled Proposal for a Catechesis, in which Varejão explores allegories of absorption and transformation through the Brazilian paradigm of anthropophagia, or cultural cannibalism. As a critical practice, anthropophagia posited transculturation and miscegenation as constructive values, a fitting rejoinder to essentializing European constructs of the New World. Varejão acknowledges the cannibal fantasies of seventeenth-century Europe in the sepia-toned tiles in the upper-right-hand corner of Azulejaria de cozinha com peixes, adapted from a collection of engravings by Theodore de Bry. But she reinscribes them into the azulejaría, inverting the catechism in an ironic role reversal: here the Indians teach the Europeans the miracle of transubstantiation. More than the physical consumption of flesh, anthropophagia suggested the creative potential of ingesting foreign influences and metabolizing them as one's own, a powerful image for the modern Brazilian state as it began to define its independence from the colonial past.

    Throughout this series, Varejão develops a rich anthropophagic imagery that ranges from the literalism of cadaverous flesh and the native Tupinambam ritual of cannibalism to the more allusive and abstract, as in the present work. Azulejaria de cozinha com peixes plumbs the metaphor of hybridity through the conjoined bodies of man and fish, fluidly interwoven into the gridded tilework. In other works in this series Varejão incorporates various game animals and butchered hams into the composite imagery, but here she explores the visceral body of the fish alone, parceled piece-by-piece with the human body and echoed in the surrounding azulejos. Fish have a rich symbolic resonance in Varejão's work, and their many connotative associations with birth and fertility, change and transformation, water and life give them privileged meaning here. In an earlier work, Miracle of the Fish, 1991, Varejão explicitly recalled the Biblical tale of feeding five thousand through the extraordinary multiplication of five loaves of bread and two fish; and she channels a similar idea of metamorphosis here, though in a secular context. The tiles decorated with fish and various sailing vessels evoke a watery domain, imaged in the floating cerulean tiles that appear throughout the azulejaría. An intimation of trans-Atlantic passages of colonialism and discovery, the imagery becomes an apt metaphor for modern Brazil, a nation nourished by a regenerative reinterpretation of its historical past.

    "Adriana has spoken to me about the surge of the sea in this world of baroque convulsion," Paulo Herkenhoff once remarked. "The loss of direction imposed against the mesh, beyond the grid, cracked like wounded skin in the crevices of Varejão's canvases comes expressively to evoke, in his flowing meditation, "the blue baroque-rococo sea, coastal territory of scrolls, bends, spirals, body parts, all a paradoxical conceptual entirety of fragments in the totalization of the surface, which becomes stained, checkered, displaced with a rocky and aqueous quality akin to parts of the troubled waters of the Negro and Solimões rivers as they meet to form the Amazon River....[2]

    Abby McEwen.

    [1] L. Neri, "Brave New World: Adriana Varejão's Baroque Territories," Adriana Varejão, São Paulo, Banco do Brasil, 2001, 19.
    [2] P. Herkenhoff, "Glory! The Great Surge," Adriana Varejão, São Paulo, Takano, 2001, 119.


    Private collection, Miami.
    Acquired from the above by the present owner.