My work is always in the territory of hybridity. My content forms in terms of decolonizing subjectivities because it deals with countless cultural references—not only from official history, but also from many other hidden or obscured histories that lie at the margins.
Gagosian is pleased to present new paintings and sculptures by Adriana Varejão. This is her first exhibition with the gallery in New York, following presentations in Rome in 2016, and Los Angeles in 2017.
Varejão’s rich and diverse artistic oeuvre embodies the mythic pluralism of Brazilian identity and the fraught social, cultural, and aesthetic interactions that engendered it. Living and working in Rio de Janeiro, she draws upon the potent visual legacy of colonial histories and transnational exchange, creating confluent forms that expose the multivalent nature of memory and representation.
In the late 1980s, Varejão began researching azulejos, the glazed terra-cotta tiles of Arab origin that have been the most widely used form of decoration in Portuguese art since the Middle Ages and that were brought to Brazil through colonization and trade. From this, she developed her unique and ever-evolving series of “tile” paintings, made by covering a square canvas with a thick layer of plaster and allowing it to gradually dry to produce a surface with deep fissures resembling ancient crackled porcelain—or geological time itself.
Varejão’s most recent tile paintings explore the culture of Talavera poblana, the Mexican ceramic tradition originating in Spain that, like the azulejo, draws on diverse sources—in this case, indigenous, Hispanic, Italian, and Chinese. A photograph of a wall of Talavera tiles taken by Varejão in Mexico in the mid-1990s formed the basis for the painting Parede Mexicana (1999); twenty years later, this painting has become the indexical reference for an entire new series where the key motifs of individual tiles are adapted and enlarged to seventy-inch square canvases.
In Varejão’s transformative process, these motifs shift into crisp geometries with a bold and decisive use of color, invoking the dynamic designs of Brazil’s leading modernists, from Oscar Niemeyer to Athos Bulcão, while suggesting affinities with twentieth-century innovators, such as Josef Albers and Ellsworth Kelly. Varejão revels in these unexpected artistic crossroads; by interweaving time, culture, and place, she initiates dialogue between aesthetic systems once segregated by dominant master narratives, and in so doing raises provocative questions about the lives of forms in art.
The paintings surround three new Meat Ruins (2020–21), towering columns that simulate fragments of Talavera-tiled walls and architectural elements. While their exposed cross-sections speak to the radical “anarchitecture” of Gordon Matta-Clark, Varejão replaces the lathes and plaster of built structures with roiling masses of painted viscera to simulate the veined marble and corporeal drama of the Baroque. In their eroticism and theatricalized reinvention of space and place, the Meat Ruins embody the violence that has shaped Latin American history, while evoking the spirit of antropofagia that transfigured the social taboo of cannibalism into a process of cultural absorption in the modern period. In a pointed reference to her own country in its current state of political and ecological turmoil and degradation, Varejão has titled one of the sculptures Ruína Brasilis (Brasilis Ruin), painting its surface in tiles of national colors.
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