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Christina Ramberg’s suggestive, haunting paintings retrospective Achi-News

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Christina Ramberg’s suggestive, haunting paintings retrospective


Achi news desk-

CHICAGO – No artist, as far as I know, made stranger, sexier, edgier work in the 1970s than Christina Ramberg. At the same time, I can’t think of an artist who is more loved and missed by her peers.

Ramberg died in 1995 aged 49, having been diagnosed with Pick’s disease, an early version of dementia. “Her sense of fun was so attractive,” wrote her friend Lorri Gunn Wirsum. “Her generosity was innate and her interest in others genuine.” About how many first class artists are such loving, simple things said?

Ramberg’s paintings, which are on display in a magnificent retrospective at the Art Institute of Chicago, always strike me as terribly cool at first. In a patterned idiom inspired by cartoon strips, they show feminine hairstyles, boneless hands suggestively entwined with iridescent cloths, and topless feminine tresses in corsets and brassieres.

As Ramberg developed, her beautiful paintings became increasingly stranger and more fetishistic, until fishnet fabrics became skin, shiny hair became armor, and torsos turned into electricity towers. Critic Dan Nadel described Ramberg’s increasingly complex later works, made between 1979 and 1981, as “one artist’s exquisite corpse,” referring to the surrealist drawing game in which each person adds a new body part without being able to see the previous parts. .

Cool they may be, but Ramberg’s works are by no means immortal. Rather, they bridge the divide between erotic heat and the displacement of dead pads.

During her tragically cut short career, Ramberg’s interests remained very consistent, very consistent. Her painted surfaces were always unbearably smooth (no theatrical brushstrokes or thick crusts of paint). The Art Institute’s hanging (organized by Mark Pascale, who knew Ramberg, and Thea Liberty Nichols) shows how her work developed almost like an unspooling algorithm. Her theme-and-variation logic suggests that, as with scores of other avant-gardists in the 1970s, process was as important to Ramberg as product.

She had the cast of a collector’s mind — quick, discriminating, strangely reckless — and fascinated by morphologies. The show features a wall of battered dolls, which followed her around from home to home. Some of her paintings almost double as lists of graphic techniques are applied not only to the picture but also to the frames: faux bois (“fake wood”), marbling, tromp l’oeil “glare” marks and etc.

Yet for all her emphasis on process and taxonomy, each of her paintings has its own completely unique charm. For all their smooth, cartoon-inspired surfaces and machine-like symmetry, they share a psychological quality of control and release that Ramberg created to a point of immense tension.

It is rare for artists to dig deep into their own psyches and convey what they find there in truly original images. Instead of expressing the pathology of obsession (every installation is a restriction on imaginative freedom), Ramberg’s works take installations as a starting point, then open them up to something bigger, more sustaining and more immersive. In this way, they become art: ambiguous, containing, responsible for the contradiction of life.

Ramberg’s imagery drew on so many sources that listing them can make it seem indiscriminate. She looked at classified ads for wigs, with their stylized illustrations of glittering hairstyles. She flipped through vintage Sears and Roebuck catalogs showing fascinators, corsets, belts and isolated pixie pumps. And she liked looking at the personal ads in BDSM magazines.

He studied comics; hand-painted signs and items bought at flea markets; art house, pornographic and low budget films; and medical textbooks on skin diseases. His artistic tastes included Indian miniatures, African art, outsider art, Japanese prints and Sienese primitives. She was fond of pioneering fashion photographers such as Guy Bourdin. And he responded to the serial photographs of industrial structures by Bernd and Hilla Becher.

Ramberg created her own travel scrapbooks and photographic slides, and between 1969 and 1980, when her marriage to fellow artist Phil Hanson ended, she also kept a diary.

Parts of the diary have (understandably) been redacted by the Ramberg family, but as art historian and curator Judith Russi Kirshner explains in the catalogue, his entries reveal much about Ramberg’s inner life, his artistic ideas and ‘to erotic hankerings. She tried, quite hard, to keep these things separate (even though they weren’t): Her reflections are about her work, her admitted insecurities about her talent and outrageous comparisons to such successful friends and peers with Karl Wirsum and Jim Nutt, written in red, while her more personal reflections, on facing pages, are in blue.

The diaries contain candid statements of Ramberg’s interest in slavery. “I started with a rather elaborate idea of ​​women in pain but delighted,” he wrote, to explain an early series of paintings of boneless hands entwined with stretchy fabrics. She expressed shame from time to time about her preoccupation with bodies in extremes, including signs of physical abuse, dirty clothes and it causes excruciating restriction and pain.

According to Nichols, Ramberg struggled with “the complex fantasies of a young woman’s extramarital desires, the shame she felt about her attraction to sadomasochistic imagery, and her guilt for denying it.” And there is a sense, says Nichols, that the struggle itself became her true subject.

Ramberg was critical of her own body. She still and felt that this interfered with her desire, in sexual situations, to be dominated by a man. During the height of second wave feminism, it seems that the movement was ambiguous. But he read and admired Simone de Beauvoir, attracted, perhaps, by her tragic vision of the relationship between the two sexes. Meanwhile, Anaïs Nin’s erotic perspective made her “proud to be a woman, proud of women.”

Although Ramberg sometimes worried about how much time she spent thinking about “style, fashion, clothes, decorating, fabrics, patterning, quilting,” she concluded that it was “beyond the point where that would embarrass me.”

In 1973, she gave birth to a premature baby who died shortly after delivery, leaving Ramberg “wracked with pain” and “sobbing uncontrollably.” When she gave birth to a healthy son, Alexander, in 1975, she was a loving, extremely dedicated mother. But she also became concerned, like so many mothers, about the stress placed on her creativity and work life by being a mother. “Is it possible to be an artist and a wife and a mother too?” she wondered. “I feel sick with anxiety about this question.” (She had read Sylvia Plath’s “The Bell Jar” during her first unsuccessful pregnancy.)

The anxiety continued, but Ramberg remained highly ambitious, and her work continued to develop in fascinating directions. After her separation from Hanson in 1980, she turned a lifelong hobby — making quilts — into the sole focus of her work for several years. There are five of these quilts in the show, which complement the 78 paintings, six bound volumes and 12 works on paper.

Ramberg’s work is too confident, too brilliantly realized, to be reduced to an expression of her psychosexual interests. Rich, subtle and flawless, it is there for women and men to draw whatever feelings and ideas they see in it. But considering her work may encourage people to rethink some of their assumptions about what makes powerful female art.

What I see in Ramberg changes from work to work and from one encounter to the next. Sometimes I see a strain of psychic concentration and formal control in the work of Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres. (The French neoclassical portraitist had a penchant for impossible anatomies, austere and over-the-top sensuous compositions, which were almost robbing, embarrassing.)

Closer connections in time exist (at least in my mind) between Ramberg and the surrealist Meret Oppenheim, the cartoonist Chris Ware (a poet of secret aspirations famous for his graphic control) and the fashion-inspired artist Diane Simpson , who was a friend of Ramberg’s.

But what I mostly see is wonder (how strange our deepest desires can be, especially to ourselves!) and intensity (how powerful the most elusive experiences in our bodies can be!).

How wonderful, too, the freedom art gives to express all this.

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