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Monocromo Roma I

Monocromo Roma I
signed, titled and dated 'Monocromo Roma I 2016 A. Varejão.' (on the reverse)
oil and plaster on canvas
70 7⁄8 x 70 7⁄8 in. (180 x 180 cm.)
Executed in 2016.
Gagosian Gallery, Rome
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 2017
Rome, Gagosian Gallery, Azulejão, October 2016-January 2017.

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Lot Essay

“My fiction does not belong to any time or place, instead it is characterised by themes dealing with rupture and discontinuity. Everything is contaminated.” A. Varejão, “Adriana Varejão: painting/suturing = pintura/sutura,” 1996

Like the cracked glazing on a Song dynasty porcelain vase or like veins on leaves, the serendipitous network of surface fissures in Adriana Varejão’s Monocromo Roma I (2016) extends out to invite viewers into a seismic event. The present work constructs deconstruction, at once both an architectural and a sculptural painting. Incorporating craquelure by painting a viscous layer of plaster and allowing deep cracks to form, each one singular and unrepeatable, Varejão embraces and relinquishes control in the artistic process. The deliberate desiccation of the plaster, its cracks a turmeric-yellow, contrast against the gauzy, white paint to draw the viewer’s attention to the rhythmic ruptures on the skin of the canvas, a metaphor for Brazil’s multilayered history, fragmented yet whole.
Varejão was inspired by the azulejo, a traditional Portuguese ceramic tile used for national art since the Middle Ages, introduced in Brazil by the Dutch, who in turn learned of the technique from the Chinese. The artist deftly maneuvers her system of wide-ranging references by grounding the work through its surface and materiality, using the charged cracks to turn what usually constitutes as a mistake in ceramics into a statement about cross-cultural encounters. “The forms,” she notes, “suggest rays, lighting roots, branches, veins on leaves, veins in our body. All part of the same natural and organic intelligence. The canvas cracks to find this balance.”
Made specifically for the Gagosian Gallery in Rome, Monocromo Roma I embraces the theatricality and spatial drama of the Baroque, the turmeric cracks acting as fault lines, linking plaster and paint to the inscrutable yet interlinked movements of history. Employing trompe l’oeil, Varejão’s work goes a step further, subtly projecting into the viewer’s three-dimensional space, the cracks lifting off the surface. One of Brazil’s most acclaimed living artists, her references extend globally across Josef Albers, Oscar Niemeyer, Ellsworth Kelly, Japanese tattooing practices, Chinese ceramics, and Mexican pottery. However it is her innovative use of plaster that consolidates interwoven ideas of history and aesthetics. The dark, cartographic cracks on the white canvas bridge the space between the naturally-occurring and the artificially-induced. While Brazilian Neo-Concrete artists such as Hélio Oiticica, Lygia Clark, and Lygia Page experimented with color and geometric abstraction from the 1950s to the 1970s, Varejão represents a renewed animation of surface and materiality, more in line with the likes of Frank Stella.
Stella’s highly restrained brushwork in Getty Tomb (1959)—the thin white lines are bits of canvas left unpainted—emphasizes the materiality of the black paint and the canvas’s surface. Varejão works in a similar vein, using the canvas as a starting point from which to break free of form. Monocromo Roma I leans into this shared vertiginous quality, treating the canvas as an earthly surface and using plaster to introduce discontinuity, uncovering what is buried beneath. The craquelure opens up another space, rupturing from within to signal a roaring silence around Brazil’s hybrid identity, a contemporary ruin of her own making. On the surface, Monocromo Roma I belies its complexity but a closer look at the symbolic cracks, like scars on delicate skin, cements Adriana Varejão’s place as an irreplaceable force in the world of contemporary art.

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