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Christina Ramberg: Fragmented Figures

In a previous post, I mentioned that curator James Rondeau installed a monographic room of Christina Ramberg’s paintings in gallery 296 C. A few readers requested images, so I thought that I would post additional information about the artist and views of the gallery.

Christina Ramberg  (American, 1946–1995) is known for enigmatic paintings and drawings of fragments of the female body—typically torsos, heads, legs, and hands—tightly cropped and partially clothed, bound, or veiled. The formal clarity, stylized figuration, and references to Surrealism and comic books in her works aligned her with the Chicago Imagists, who she exhibited with in the False Image exhibitions at the Hyde Park Art Center in 1968 and 1969. This installation consists of paintings, ranging in date from 1971–1981, from the Art Institute’s holdings and private Chicago collections.


The artist’s pointedly feminist critique of the social conditions that physically shape and constrict the female body was furthered by her interest in costume history and her collection of medical illustrations, paper dolls, and fashion advertisements. During an interview, Ramberg further explained:

"I can remember sitting in my mother’s room watching her get dressed for public appearances . . . and I remember being stunned by how [her undergarment] transformed her body, how it pushed up her breasts and slendered her waist. . . . Watching my mother get dressed I used to think that this is what men want women to look like, she’s transforming herself into the kind of body men want. I thought it was fascinating . . . in some ways I thought it was awful."


Seamlessly cropped with a graphic, almost cinematic quality, Waiting Lady depicts a faceless woman wearing only undergarments. Corsets, darts, and a push-up bra become vital, abstracted forms that both conceal her figure and transform it into a fetishistic object, while her elegant curves belie the awkwardly demanding position that she holds. The small format and meticulous rendering of Bound Hand emphasize an intimate but powerful metaphor for the constriction and fashioning of the female body.


In the mid-1970s, Ramberg focused more heavily on patterning; symbols of femininity like braided hair mimic the decorative designs of garments in Parallel Manipulation. In Simultaneous Emergence, the arrangement and interlocking textures—frontal, flattened, heavily patterned shapes with thick outlines—overwhelm the figure, yet this is done with an equilibrium and precision that draws a different, more complicated view of feminism; an armored, protected self replaces the vulnerable feminine psyche.


Counter clockwise from the left of the wall text, the paintings in the installation are:
Bound Hand, 1973
Waiting Lady, 1972
Two Piece, 1971
Simultaneous Emergence, 1981
Untitled, 1974
Loose Beauty, 1973
Parallel Manipulation, 1977

If you want to see more of Ramberg’s work in our collection, click here.