Martín Ramírez (1895-1963): Who’s He?

The American Folk Art Museum has mounted Martin Ramirez's first retrospective (Jan. 23 – April 29), and because of two glowing reviews, I will be trotting over to 53rd Street to find out why. The New Yorker and the New York Times are the reviews in question, and I believe the tastemakers have just picked a new art brut darling.Not only is this one of the “best shows of the season" according to the Times' Roberta Smith, but the perennially unimpressed, better-at-everything-than-you-or-I-will-ever-be New Yorker art critic Peter Schjeldahl declares Ramírez “my favorite outsider artist. Come to that, he’s one of my favorite artists, period." Obviously, anybody who knows anything about anythingSchjeldahl and Smith, includedhas been familiar with Ramírez's work since forever. With the upsurge in chattering-class interest in all things Mexican and Latin American, his great talent, the fact that his works have been exhibited under the radar for decades and his archetypically outsider story (mental patient, hazy biography, "self-taught" and so on), it’s small wonder the critics would cast a loving eye on him. Still, you rarely see a show catch a critic like Schjeldahl so off-guard as to compel him to call it "a marvel and a joy." In the second sentence of the review, no less. My curiosity is piqued. I'm going a week from tomorrow, and will deliver a full report.

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