Rio de Janeiro, Brasil, 1964
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Adriana Varejão was born in Rio de Janeiro in 1964. Her paintings, sculptures, installations, and photographs engage with the complex and violent artistic and political history of Brazil. She appropriates stylistic traditions introduced to Brazil as part of the colonial encounter and interrupts their veneer with grotesque punctuations of exposed organs and blood. In her early series Baroque (1987–1992), Varejão explores the ornate style that arrived with the conquistadors. In the series Terra Incognita (1991–2003), she utilized the Dutch, Portuguese, and Chinese pictorial traditions imported in the seventeenth century. With her series Proposal for a Catechesis (1993–99), Varejão began to incorporate the decorative terracotta tiles, or azulejos, which served as a visual manifestation of the Portuguese presence in Brazil beginning in the eighteenth century. Here the vulnerable skin of the canvas and tile are spliced open to reveal the corporeal violence lying beneath the smooth illusionism of the painted surface and, symbolically, the historical narratives. Varejão’s paintings became increasingly sculptural, introducing elements that extended beyond the canvas, and she soon transitioned to sculpture and installation. By the time the artist initiated the series Jerked-beef Ruins (2000–04), the decorative, distinctly European tiles gave way to more universal pale blue or white tiles found in public buildings or bathrooms. In these sculptures, the cadaverous contents do not burst from the center as they had in her earlier pieces, but rather lurk hidden within, exposed only at the edges of the smooth facade. In Varejão’s recent series of paintings entitled Saunas and Baths (2001–08), an eerie silence and stillness pervades scenes of empty corridors, pools, and stairs composed entirely of tiles.
Solo exhibitions of Varejão’s work have been organized by Instituto de Arte Contemporãnea in Lisbon (1998), Borås Konstmuseum in Switzerland (2000), Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain in Paris (2005), and Hara Museum of Contemporary Art in Tokyo (2007). Her work has also been included in major exhibitions like São Paulo Bienal (1994 and 1998), Venice Biennale (1995), Liverpool Biennial (1999 and 2006), Brazil: Body and Soul at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York (2001), SITE Santa Fe (2004), Retratos: 2,000 Years of Latin American Portraits at the San Diego Museum of Art (2005), and Global Feminisms at the Brooklyn Museum (2007). In 2004 Varejão was an artist-in-residence at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. The artist lives and works in Rio de Janeiro.
Biography – Courtesy of The Guggenheim Museum and Foundation