Feature

Martín Ramírez

An exhibit that seeks to cut through the stereotypes of mentally ill artists.

Martín Ramírez was one of the first untrained creators to earn the title of 'œoutsider artist,' said Constance Wyndham in the Financial Times. A Mexican immigrant diagnosed with schizophrenia in the 1920s and consigned to American mental institutions for the rest of his life, Ramírez created hundreds of beguilingly mysterious drawings that earned him renown when finally displayed publicly in the 1950s. 'œAlongside the Swiss artist Adolf Wolfli and the Chicago janitor Henry Darger, Ramírez counts as one of the outsider greats.' But the American Folk Art Museum's major retrospective sets out to challenge the popular image of Ramírez and other outsider artists as unsophisticated visionaries. Ramírez's references to popular culture and playful use of pictorial space show a graphic sensibility as sophisticated as many of his 'œinsider' contemporaries.

If there's any justice, this show 'œshould render null and void the insider-outsider distinction' once and for all, said Roberta Smith in The New York Times. Ramírez isn't merely one of the finest outsider artists. He's 'œone of the greatest artists of the 20th century,' an inventive, irresistible draftsman on par with Saul Steinberg and Paul Klee. On scroll-like sheaves he imagined landscapes filled with ornate trains, 'œbug-like' cars, and hive-like hills. These fanciful images were once thought to have sprung entirely from Ramírez's imagination. New research has shown that they reflect the landscape of his youth in Jalisco, Mexico, and his years riding horses there. Ramírez's creations, in other words, were not simply a symptom of his illness. They were, 'œlike all great art, firmly rooted in real experiences and memories that he reshaped and distilled.'

The New York Sun

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