Adriana Varejão (b. 1964)
Adriana Varejão (b. 1964)

Parede com Incisões a la Fontana II (Wall with Incisions a la Fontana II)

Details
Adriana Varejão (b. 1964)
Parede com Incisões a la Fontana II
(Wall with Incisions a la Fontana II)
signed, titled and dated 'Parede com incisões a la Fontana II A. varejão 2001' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas and polyurethane on aluminium and wood
70 7/8 x 98 3/8in. (180 x 250cm.)
Executed in 2001
Provenance
Victoria Miro, London.
Acquired from the above by the present owner.
Exhibited
London, Victoria Miro, Adriana Varejão, 2002.
Lisbon, Centro Cultural de Belém, Echo Chamber, 2005-06.

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Lot Essay

'The incisions in my paintings tend to reveal a carnal interior that overflows onto the surface. Through the incision I thrust one side onto the other. That's how body and culture, figure and geometry, sparseness and accumulation, transparency and density, spirituality and visceralness, reason and plastic sensuality blend together in my work' (Varejão, quoted in H. Kelmachter, 'Echo Chamber', pp. 79-99, Adriana Varejão, Chambre d'échos Echo Chamber, exh. cat., Paris, 2005, p. 81).


A vast representation of a tiled wall is dramatically punctuated with slashes which recall the work of Lucio Fontana. But these slashes appear to seep, flesh spilling from them, glisteningly leaking into our world, implying some pulsing existence underneath the surface of this wall. Executed in 2001, Parede com Incisões a la Fontana II is an important painting by one of Brazil's most prominent contemporary artists, Adriana Varejão and it deftly combines many of the devices that make her work so provocative and engaging, engaging with Brazilian history, gender issues, the history of art and the Baroque.

In the explicit reference to Fontana, the father of Spatial Art whose trailblazing incisions in his canvases demanded that the viewer pay attention to the three-dimensionality of the picture surface, Varejo appears to be appropriating his work. In Fontana's Tagli, or cuts, the hole was sometimes seen as a sexual device; here, Varejão not only reclaims the cut, but also makes it explicit and visceral. The jagged procession of cuts in Parede com Incisões a la Fontana II lack the smooth, sweeping gesture of Fontana's earlier Concetti spaziali; instead, this appears to be the result of a frenetic attack, made with effort as though the artist had had to cut through flesh, not mere canvas.

The relationship to Fontana is made all the more complex because of his own South American origins. Despite often being considered an Italian artist, he had been born in Argentina and spent many years there, sometimes referring to himself as Argentinian. He was therefore a product of the complex interrelationship between South America and Europe which Varejão explores in her works. Fontana was also an artist who was intrigued by the Baroque: he was fascinated in its ability to convey movement, and also its link to the body. For Varejão, the presence of flesh under the surface of her work is Baroque in itself. 'Flesh is first connected with the idea of eroticism, I think, which is found in the Baroque,' she has explained. 'It's the space of abundance and excess based on pleasure and lust. For me, flesh is a metaphor for Baroque wood carving, covered all over in gold. Pure voluptuous extravagance' (Varejão, quoted in H. Kelmachter, 'Echo Chamber', pp. 79-99, Adriana Varejão, Chambre d'échos Echo Chamber, exh. cat., Paris, 2005, p. 85). Parede com Incisões a la Fontana II, then, is intended as a Baroque statement, the flesh a substitute for the gleaming gilding of the Seventeenth Century.

The connection between the body and the Baroque is one that was made by the Cuban writer Severo Sarduy - who also contributed an essay to the 1987 retrospective of Fontana's works in Paris - in several of his writings, including his Escrito sobre un cuerpo of 1969. In Parede com Incisões a la Fontana II, Varejão has made this link explicit. The architectural backdrop of the painted wall is intended to recall the tiled surfaces so beloved by the Portuguese colonisers of Brazil, yet it has been ruptured with this Baroque element, resulting in an unanticipated union between the external and the internal. The eruptions of flesh from picture surfaces or tiled installations that
refer to Brazil's past as a colony of Portugal are a recurring motif in Varejão's work, often appearing either bubbling under the surface, as here, or spilling out in impossible carnal torrents, hence the title of the series to which this picture relates, Tongues and Incisions.

The role of the Baroque in Varejão's works taps into the cultural history of Brazil. The Baroque style was used by, and influenced by, the increasing colonial spread of the Western European powers, especially during the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries. The word itself comes from the Portuguese term barroco for an unevenly-shaped pearl. In Brazil, there are many examples of the ornate Baroque architecture and interiors, for instance in the opulent gold decorations in the church of São Francisco da Penitència in Varejão's native Rio da Janeiro. Be it in Goa, China or South America, the Baroque style managed to meld with the local artistic vernaculars of the civilisations the various European countries were crushing, yet it retained a consistent core; it is for this reason that it is referred to as the first global style. For Varejão, this cultural cannibalism invokes the problematic aspects of colonialism, encapsulated in the searing gashes of Parede com Incisões a la Fontana II. Here, the blood that lies under the supposed civilisation of everyday life in modern Brazil, the grim undercurrents of history which have created the world that we inhabit today, are brought to the surface. The literal body politic has been exposed.

Varejão's perspective is complicated by an aspect of acceptance, rather than mere knee-jerk accusation; this is demonstrated by the fact that she herself deliberately cannibalised Fontana's artistic idiom. The complexity of Varejão's relationship to the realities of the colonial history that helped mould her nation are embodied in the flesh in the surface of Parede com Incisões a la Fontana II, which is as compelling and fascinating as it is repellent. This is the Baroque flesh that she herself discussed, a sensual element related to the literal origins of Carnival as well as to the literal cannibalism of some of the tribes throughout the world that were suppressed by colonial powers in former centuries. Here, that Baroque element is thrown further into the spotlight by the jolting contrast between the weeping flesh and the crisp Minimal grid of the surface, which recalls Sol Lewitt. Indeed, this juxtaposition of the Minimal aesthetic with organic elements recalls Paul Thek's Meat Pieces and also the evocative works of Eva Hesse. Like her, Varejão has managed to use a mathematical-seeming backdrop to give a sense of logic and rational thought, making its rupture all the more dramatic and visceral.

Parede com Incisões a la Fontana II featured in the Lisbon leg of Varejão's exhibition, Chambre d'échos Echo Chamber in 2001. The title of that show was itself taken from Sarduy, whose thoughts on the origins, nature and continuing character of the Baroque have been so important to Varejão. Discussing the title of the exhibition, Varejão explained in terms that reveal the character of the complex web of references that are involved in her work, and to the way in which, despite often involving current issues, it achieves its remarkable, timeless effect:

'Severo Sarduy refers to the "echo chamber" as a space where we can listen to resonances without getting caught up in any sequence or notion of causality, where the echo often precedes the voice. He also refers to inverting the known historical scenario into a narrative without dates. My narrative doesn't belong to any time or place, it is characterised by discontinuity. It's an interweaving of histories. Histories of bodies, of architecture, of Brazil, of tattoos, of ceramics, of old Portuguese azulejos or ordinary modern tiles, of maps, books, painting...' (Varejão, quoted in ibid., p. 81).

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