In "Talavera," Adriana Verajão explores the intricacies and heterogeneity of people, culture, and mythos across post-colonial Latin America. The show marks the artist's third solo presentation with Gagosian as well as her first at its New York location.
Based out of her native Rio de Janeiro, Verajão has previously in her practice drawn upon the form and history of azulejo tiles. During the 19th century, the tiles became popular in Brazil following an influx of Portuguese colonizers to the country. Prior to the tile's ubiquity in Portugal, however, azulejos could be observed across the Arab world—whereby, in their nascency, designs broadly took inspiration from Roman and Byzantine mosaics.
In creating the work presented in "Talavera," Verajão looked to the similarly diffuse history of the Talavera poblana, or Talavera pottery: a tradition of Mexican ceramics, the national origins of which are inextricably tied to the legacy of Spanish colonization— and yet no less do they also embody the culmination of Dutch, Chinese, and indigenous influences. The compositions of the paintings on view emulate decorative patterns found on Talavera tiles; meanwhile, Verajão covered the canvases with thick layers of plaster to fast-track the formation of cracks across their surfaces. The resulting fissures are satisfying—in the vein of Instagram's beloved slime meme—though also stressful, suggesting the loss of art to the passage of time. Moorish Arabesque (2020), for instance, features an undulating navy shape on a white background; combined with like tiles, this would surely become part of a wall pattern depicting flower-like plumes—but, as a standalone piece, its representational potential remains confined to its singular physical scope.
Separately, three pillars—painted to resemble Talavera-tiled columns and split, uncomfortably, by meat-like middles—have been erected across the space. The vexed histories that brought these tiles to their colonial locations, Verajão suggests, might not be so different from those that mark, well, each of us.
Adriana Varejão, Ruína Brasilis [Brasilis Ruin], 2021. Oil on canvas and polyurethane with aluminum support, 89 x 15 3/4 x 15 3/4 inches. © Adriana Varejão. Photo: Vicente de Mello. Courtesy the artist and Gagosian