Italian Feminist Art Legend Carol Rama Dies at 97

She was vastly underappreciated in her time.

Carol Rama.
Image: Courtesy YouTube.
Dino Pedriali, Andy Warhol e Carol Rama (1975). Photo: Courtesy artnet.

Dino Pedriali, Andy Warhol e Carol Rama (1975).
Photo: Courtesy artnet.

Artist Carol Rama, nicknamed the “Louise Bourgeois of Italy,” has died at 97.

A statement from Rama’s gallery, Galerie Isabella Bortolozzi, reads:

“During an artistic career of over 60 years, her art never suffered compromise and the same could be observed of her life which she led with an enormous strength of spirit. Her independence of thought was inspirational to everybody that surrounded her. That distinct voice will be truly missed by all, but left to resonate in the numerous works that will outlive her.”

Born in Turin in 1918, Rama had faced obstacles her entire life, as she grew up in Italy under Benito Mussolini’s fascist rule. Her first exhibition was shut down by Turin authorities in 1945—the erotic and psychosexual tendencies of her drawings were deemed indecent for a country in turmoil.

Carol Rama, Appassionata (1939).Photo: Courtesy www.macba.cat

Carol Rama, Appassionata (1939).
Photo: Courtesy www.macba.cat

Her painting and drawings present the female form as vulnerable, powerful, and dangerous; in one painting, a serpent emerges from the vagina, in another, a woman is shown squatting in an ungainly manner, defecating into the air. Depictions of vivid threesomes were not uncommon. But despite her carnal desires and wild imagination, her style maintained a sense of earnestness throughout the decades.

As a real artist’s artist (Cindy ShermanKiki Smith, and Rosemarie Trockel have cited her as an influence), Rama remained fairly unknown in the US during her lifetime. In 2003, Rama received the Golden Lion award at the Venice Biennale; eleven years later, she had a retrospective at the Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art (MACBA), titled, “The Passion According to Carol Rama.”

In 2008, Rama had a solo show at Maccarone Gallery in New York. “I couldn’t believe people didn’t know her work in the States,” Michele Maccarone told artnet, proclaiming the artist “the punkest shit in town.”

Carol Rama, Sortilegi (1984). Photo: Hauser & With Collection/Stefan Altenburger Photography Zurich.

Carol Rama, Sortilegi (1984).
Photo: Hauser & With Collection/Stefan Altenburger Photography Zurich.

Rama once said in a 1996 interview, “Work for me has always been a thing that allowed me to feel less unhappy, less poor, less ugly, yes, yes, yes, and less ignorant, also.” Her artistic output, she said, is a result of personal tragedies she experienced when she was young—her mother’s mental illness and her father’s suicide.

In 2016, Rama will have solo exhibitions at the Galleria Civica d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea in Turin and the Irish Museum of Modern Art in Dublin.

Carol Rama, Venezie (1983). Private Collection © Associazione Archivio Carol Rama.

Carol Rama, Venezie (1983).
Private Collection © Associazione Archivio Carol Rama.


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