Martin Ramirez

I made it to La Gran Manzana last weekend and ... Peter Schjeldahl is such a pushover these days!

On Feb. 4, I wrote about two stellar reviews for a retrospective currently up at the American Folk Art Museum of the self-taught painter Martin Ramirez. The exhibition features hundreds of Ramirez's works spread over three floors.  {C}

Unfortunately, the museum's exhibition space itself was a huge distraction the day I visited. Odd, considering it is in the same building as that recently remodeled tourist trap, MoMA. Get this: water was actually leaking through the roof! Enough water to create little puddles cordoned off with yellow "Caution" signs. The water wasn't falling directly on the artworks, so it would be kind of, um, quaint, except that the interior drizzle plus the overheatedness of all NYC buildings meant it was oppressively hot and humid in this museum. Bad for the art, and bad for museum-goers, who were uniformly crabby when I visited. (What's that? It all looks alike. Can we go now?)

I started with the first floor, although, according to a guard, the exhibit starts on the third floor and ends on the first floor. Apparently you can only begin at the beginning of this exhibit if you buy a ticket in the lobby, close your eyes so that you can't see the first floor gallery, and take the elevator to the third floor. So, I saw it backwards. No matter: The problem with the first floor is the problem with the rest of the exhibit: The works are bunched up too close together on each wall. There are no less than 17 banditos on one wall alone.

My mood darkened as I ascended. So did the lighting. There were things I loved, but these are extraordinary pencil and crayon drawings on butcher paper, on torn-out magazine pages and on torn-up brown-paper bags. They're hard to see. The exhibitors chose to light these works as though they were oil on canvas, which can be low-lit to great dramatic effect.

Room after room was lit so poorly I could barely see anything, let alone the details on the drawings. The set-up, with all of Ramirez's works squished together on dark walls, enclosed in frames that look like they came from a Michael's craft store, coupled with the claustrophobia I felt in that hotbox of a museum, made it -- I'm just going to use the b-word here. Boring.

I feel like a killjoy. Everyone loves this exhibit, and I react with, "Man, it was hot in there." So, go, and judge for yourself. It closes April 29.

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