Carol Rama

Black Phase

1974

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Artist
Carol Rama 1918–2015
Original title
Fase del Nero
Medium
Rubber on canvas
Dimensions
Object: 1706 × 1309 × 27 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Presented by Ruben Levi 2020
Reference
T15695

Summary

Fase del Nero (Black Phase) 1974 is a work on black fabric made by the Italian artist Carol Rama using several rubber inner tubes that have been opened out, flattened and glued onto part of the surface. The rubber elements occupy a square in the top left of the black fabric. Within this square, there are several horizontal bands of black rubber to the left, then four vertical bands of rubber, alternating between black rubber and rust-coloured rubber. The vertical bands differ in their thickness. The band on the far right has a manufacturer’s stamp on it which shows that the inner tubes were made by the iconic Italian tyre manufacturer Pirelli. The work measures 1700 by 1300 millimetres in total, consistent with the size of other works in the same series of the same title.

Rama’s works with tyres and rubber are part of a larger body of works from the 1970s and followed on from her ‘bricolages’ of the 1960s – composite works with a variety of materials including metal shavings, dolls’ eyes, fur and animal claws in combination with paint and ink (see, for example, Bricolage 1964, Tate T15549). Rama was based in Turin and, during the post-war period, the city’s industries were changing rapidly, with Fiat being the largest employer. The Pirelli rubber tubes that Rama used in her works of the 1970s were manufactured in Milan, and Rama was able to buy used inner tubes with great ease. Curator Teresa Grandas has argued that Rama’s works with rubber tyres, electrical cables and metal shavings were ‘inseparable from the economic development of Turin’ (Teresa Grandas, in MACBA 2014, p.53).

Post-war artists in Italy associated with arte povera at this time were also using found and used materials within their art works, re-appropriating them to construct new forms. Gilberto Zorio’s sculpture Column 1967 (Castello di Rivoli, Turin) comprises a vertical cement column and black rubber inner tubes: Zorio used materials found on his father’s construction company site. Coined by curator and art critic Germano Celant in 1967, the term arte povera grouped artists working in various Italian cities including Turin, Milan and Rome. In 1970 Celant organised the exhibition Conceptual Art. Arte Povera. Land Art in Turin at the Galleria Civica d’Arte Moderna in Turin. The exhibition placed arte povera artists alongside American post-minimalist artists such as Richard Serra. Rama visited the exhibition, keeping the catalogue in her studio and became aware of the works of Serra, in particular Triangle Belt Piece of 1967 which used vulcanised rubber and was exhibited in the show. Curator Maria Cristina Mundici has written that, after the exhibition, Rama began using rubber in her own works, using it to animate ‘monochrome picture planes (usually white or black,) cut into irregular strips and glued to the canvas, stretched like pictorial skin … For a period in the 1970s these inner tubes muscled into the foreground of her work, ousting the pigments.’ (Mundici and Ghiotti 2014, p.182.)

Rama used inner tubes in two main ways. In some works, she incorporated a metallic support and hung groups of inner tubes from this. In other works, the inner tubes would be opened up, flattened and glued onto fabric to create abstract compositions. Fase del Nero 1974 comes from this second group. In such works, Rama not only engaged with the materiality of northern Italian industries, as well as the language of arte povera and postminimalism, but also found a way to produce a form of geometric abstraction without the use of traditional materials of paint and canvas. She used the different colours of the rubber to create compositions and juxtaposed the rubber with fabric. Here, with the use of black fabric as a background, Rama was also looking back to the use of black in historical monochromes of the early twentieth century, most notably Kasimir Malevich’s Black Square of 1915 (The State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow).

Further reading
Maria Cristina Mundici (ed.), Carol Rama, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, 1998.
Maria Cristina Mundici and Bepi Ghiotti, Inside Carol Rama, Milan 2014.
Beatriz Preciado and Anne Dressen (eds.), The Passion According to Carol Rama, exhibition catalogue, MACBA, Barcelona 2014–15.

Amy Emmerson Martin
January 2020

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Display caption

In the early 1970s Rama began to use rubber inner tubes and electric wires in her collages. Based in the industrial city of Turin, Italy, she produced many works using materials associated with mass production. Rama was aware of 1960s and 70s art movements which experimented with industrial materials and simplified forms, such as minimalism or Italy’s arte povera. However, the manufacturing references in works such as Black Phase relate instead to Rama’s various childhood experiences. Her family ran a small-scale car and bicycle factory which was forced to close, leading to a time of significant upheaval. The black fabric areas in her rubber collages hint at dark times in the artist’s life.

Gallery label, November 2021

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