Before her turn to abstraction in the 1950s, Carol Rama had depicted domesticity disrupted by eroticism and violence, drawing strange sexual scenes that reflected the repressive regime of Fascist Italy during the previous three decades. In Tovaglia (Table Cloth, 1951), domesticity is again the focus, but now it is the literal site of representation, with the titular table cloth serving as both support and subject. Produced during the years of Rama’s association with the Milan-based Movimento Arte Concreta (MAC), this work challenges the usual interpretation of her work as autobiographical and operating outside the mainstream. Instead, it shows Rama directly engaging with the language of pure abstraction and incorporating this approach into her artistic vocabulary in a sophisticated way. The allover pattern of Tovaglia, with no referents to representational subject matter or to nature, embraces the MAC artists’ desire for an intellectual abstraction, applied to life beyond the limitations of fine art. The period of Rama’s association with the MAC is often excluded from survey studies of her career as an artist, but draws attention to the complex dialogue between the everyday and the individual that is the central focus of her body of work.
Carol Rama was a self-taught Italian artist who is best recognized for her watercolors depicting often bold and provocative expressions of sexuality and sexual actions. Rama’s first solo show at the Gallery Faber in Turin, in 1945, was shut down by the fascist government and many of her works were seized by the Turin police. Only in 1980, following an exhibition at the Palazzo Reale (Royal Palace) in Milan, did her early works become known to a larger audience. After that, her erotic drawing again became her primary theme. During the 1950s Rama’s paintings moved toward abstraction and during the 1960s she started to create multimedia works by incorporating found objects and everyday materials. In the 1970s among paint and text, syringes, cannulae, glass beads, and fingernails, her preferred material became rubber from tires. In the late 1960s and early 1970s Rama was in contact with such notable artists as Man Ray (1890–1976), Andy Warhol (1928–1987), and Orson Welles (1915–1985). In 2003 she was awarded the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement at the Venice Biennale.