The Baroque always connects two extremes, like light and shadow, in one body, one painting. History outside against a wild body inside, cultured and uncultured, cooked and uncooked, greed and expressionism, rationalism and irrationality, cold and hot.
In her richly diverse oeuvre, Adriana Varejão uses the Baroque tactics of simulation, juxtaposition, and parody to reflect on the mythic pluralism of Brazilian identity and the complex social, cultural, and aesthetic interactions that produced it. Varejão draws upon a potent visual legacy animated by the histories of colonialism and transnational exchange to create a confluence of hybridized forms—paintings that are both architectural and sculptural; theatrical, painted sculptures; mesmerizing multichannel videos—that expose the multivalent nature of memory and representation.
Varejão was born in Rio de Janeiro. She attended the Escola de Artes Visuais do Parque Lage from 1983 to 1985. In 1986 she began to experiment with the medium of oil painting, reimagining in thick impasto the ornate Baroque frescoes and religious relics of the eighteenth-century churches in Ouro Preto, Minas Gerais, Brazil.
In 1992, Varejão spent three months traveling in China, where she studied Song dynasty (960–1279 CE) ceramics and classical Chinese landscape painting. From that journey, she began to consider how Eurocentric narratives distort or even erase the histories of various artistic methods and motifs, and subsequently embarked on a series of paintings in which familiar iconography—maps, religious imagery, colonial genre scenes—is interrupted with simulated bloody gashes and fleshy extrusions, or more subtle narrative subversions. Her work from this period makes explicit reference to the violence and eroticism of Brazilian history in the spirit of antropofagia, a key concept in Brazilian modernism that reclaims the anthropophagic rituals of the Tupi people, transforming the social taboo of cannibalism into a symbolic totem of cultural absorption in postcolonial Brazil.
Upon her return from China, Varejão began collecting examples of regional Brazilian folk art such as ex-votos and azulejos, glazed terra-cotta tiles of Arab origin that have been the most widely used form of decoration in Portuguese national art since the Middle Ages. Fascinated by the azulejo and its legacy in Brazil as a metaphor for both forced and voluntary cultural miscegenation, Varejão developed her Azulejão (Big Tile) paintings (1988–). For the support, she applies a thick layer of viscous plaster to a canvas laid flat; as the plaster slowly dries, the cracks that form produce a cartography of deep surface fissures. While the early Azulejão paintings, featuring fragments of larger schema, were often arranged in vast grids of disrupted narrative, the larger-scale singular works of more recent years present seismic surfaces, at once abstract, geological, and corporeal.
For Varejão, the spatial drama of the Baroque assumes many forms: In the Ruinas de charque (Meat Ruins), a series of large-scale, freestanding sculptures that she began in 1999, Varejão simulates tiled architectural fragments, roiling with painted viscera. Specific locations cited in the subtitles of these works suggest that familiar spaces are haunted by violent specters” past and present. The Saunas and Baths series (2001–) are completely invented tiled interiors painted in intricate, monochromatic gradations, appearing of coolly sterile yet psychologically charged. In these labyrinths of the mind, light beams from an undetectable source and traces of the human body appear, here and there, in the form of stray hairs or blood.
In 2008, the Galeria Adriana Varejão, a permanent custom-designed pavilion, opened at Inhotim Centro de Arte Contemporânea in Brumadinho, Brazil, and in 2012, Varejão’s solo exhibition Histórias às Margens opened at the Museu de Arte Moderna de São Paulo; the show traveled to the Museu de Arte Moderna do Rio de Janeiro and Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires. In 2019, Varejão had two survey exhibitions: Adriana Varejão: Por uma retórica cannibal, which opened at the Museum of Modern Art of Bahia, traveling to Mamam, Recife; and Adriana Varejão: Otros cuerpos detrás at the Museo Tamayo in Mexico City.
In recent years, Varejão has developed a confluent interest in the culture of pre-Hispanic, colonial, and modern Mexico. In January 2017, she visited Puebla as a guest of the Museo Amparo to study local talavera and cholula polychrome pottery. Her subsequent engagement with talavera, whose heterogeneous cultural sources parallel those of the Brazilian Baroque impulse that has guided her artistic inspiration thus far, has catalyzed a new direction in her paintings in which the clean shapes and bright hues of hard-edge abstraction are brought into dialogue with pre-Hispanic artisanal forbears. Through this conscious interweaving of time, culture, and place, Varejão draws attention to the parallels between aesthetic systems previously separated by dominant master narratives and raises vital questions about the life of forms in art.
Adriana Varejão: For a Poetics of Difference
Curator Luisa Duarte considers the artist’s oeuvre, writing on Varejão’s active engagement with theories of difference, as well as the cultural specters of the past.
Work in Progress
Adriana Varejão: In the Studio
Join Adriana Varejão at her studio in Rio de Janeiro as she prepares for her upcoming exhibition at Gagosian in New York. She speaks about the inspirations for her “tile” paintings, from Portuguese azulejos to the Brazilian Baroque to the Talavera ceramic tradition of Mexico, and reveals for the first time her unique process for creating these works.
For Sale: Baby Shoes. Never Worn.
Sydney Stutterheim meditates on the power and possibilities of small-format artworks throughout time.
Adriana Varejão: Transbarroco
From October 19 to 21, 2017, Adriana Varejão’s video installation Transbarroco (2014) played across the façade and in the central courtyard of the historic John Sowden House, designed by Lloyd Wright in 1926.
Adriana Varejão: Interiors
Lilia Moritz Schwarcz explores themes that are central to the artist’s oeuvre.
Adriana Varejão: Azulejão
Gagosian director Louise Neri discusses the evolution of the Azulejão series with Adriana Varejão.
Thursday, June 17, 2021, 1pm edt
Join Gagosian for a dialogue between Adriana Varejão and Brazilian critic and curator Luisa Duarte on the occasion of Varejão’s exhibition Talavera, on view at Gagosian, New York, through June 26. The pair will discuss Varejão’s unique approach to painting in the context of Latin American history, culture, and politics. Duarte’s new essay on Varejão’s oeuvre, “For a Poetics of Difference,” appears in the Summer issue of the Gagosian Quarterly, and she curated the 2019 survey exhibition Adriana Varejão: Por uma retórica canibal, presented in both Salvador and Recife, Brazil. Organized in partnership with Fortes D’Aloia & Gabriel, the conversation will be conducted in Portuguese and streamed online with English subtitles. This is the first of two events presented in conjunction with the exhibition, hosted over the course of two consecutive days.
Left: Adriana Varejão. Photo: Vicente de Mello. Right: Luisa Duarte
Friday, June 18, 2021, 1pm edt
Join Gagosian for a walkthrough of the exhibition Adriana Varejão: Talavera at Gagosian, New York, led by the artist together with Mexican curator Pedro Alonzo. In 2017, Varejão and Alonzo made a research trip to Mexico to study Talavera poblana, the richly diverse ceramic tradition that inspired the current exhibition. While guiding viewers through the exhibition, the pair will recount their experiences and the many references—from Indigenous and pre-Hispanic to colonial and modernist—for this body of work, revealing some of the potent narratives inherent in material culture, global trade, art history, and the corresponding power dynamics in Mexico and Brazil. This is the second of two events presented in conjunction with the exhibition, hosted over the course of two consecutive days.
Left: Adriana Varejão. Photo: Vicente de Mello. Right: Pedro Alonzo. Photo: René Castelán Foglia
February 24–March 2, 2021
Adriana Varejão uses the tactics of the Baroque—simulation, juxtaposition, and parody—to reflect on the mythic pluralism of Brazilian identity and the social, cultural, and aesthetic interactions that produced it. In various mediums, Varejão draws upon a potent visual legacy stemming from the histories of colonialism and transnational exchange to create a confluence of hybridized forms—paintings that are architectural or sculptural, theatrical painted sculptures, mesmerizing multichannel video—which expose the multivalent nature of memory and representation.
Photo: Vicente de Mello
Adriana Varejão in
Through August 2021
Museu de Arte do Rio, Rio de Janeiro
This exhibition, initially presented online due to the global health crisis, brings together approximately eight hundred works around themes related to the home and life in Rio de Janeiro and Brazil. It was conceived as part of the cultural program for the 27th World Congress of the International Union of Architects, which will be held in Brazil for the first time in July 2021. Work by Adriana Varejão is included.
Adriana Varejão, Ruína Modernista II, 2018 © Adriana Varejão. Photo: Eduardo Ortega
Time for Outrage!
Art in Times of Social Anger
October 29, 2020–January 10, 2021
Kunstpalast Düsseldorf, Germany
Based on a 2010 manifesto of the same title by former French resistance fighter Stéphane Hessel, the exhibition Time for Outrage! brought together more than forty international artists who visualize, reflect on, and comment on various facets of anger and rage in our society during this era of political turmoil and democratic crisis. Work by Taryn Simon and Adriana Varejão was included.
Adriana Varejão, Horto Jerked-Beef Ruin (diptych), 2001 © Adriana Varejão
Adriana Varejão in
An Exhibition with Works By . . .
January 19–August 23, 2020
Witte de With, Rotterdam, Netherlands
Focusing on works made in the medium of ceramic, this exhibition explored how national identities can be forged through aesthetics. Considering the immigration of forms, it fostered a dialogue about global trade and about the role played by colonial enterprises and cultural influence. Work by Adriana Varejão was included.
Adriana Varejão, Map of Lopo Homem II, 1992–2004 © Adriana Varejão
Adriana Varejão in
Home Is a Foreign Place
April 9, 2019–June 21, 2020
Met Breuer, New York
This exhibition featured a diverse group of paintings, sculptures, installations, and videos made between 1944 and 2016 that explored artistic engagements with language, architecture, space, politics, and media. The thematic installation asked viewers to reconsider what it means to make a home in the world, whether by chance, necessity, or choice. Work by Adriana Varejão was included.
Adriana Varejão, Parede com Incisões à la Fontana—Horizontal (Wall with Incisions à la Fontana—Horizontal), 2009–11, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York © Adriana Varejão. Photo: Jaime Acioli