July 22, 2007

Martín Ramírez drawings at the San Jose Museum of Art

Kenneth Baker in the San Francisco Chronicle: "These days, art museums frequently introduce important exhibitions with orientation materials. They seldom enlist another institution to do it for them, as the San Jose Museum of Art has with its visually gripping exhibition 'Martín Ramírez.' Stop first at San Jose's Mexican Heritage Plaza, where two large rooms full of photographs, maps, artifacts and text panels evoke the life and world of Ramírez....Like countless Mexican men before him and since, he and several friends decided in 1925 to try their luck in the United States. His wife was pregnant at the time with a son he would never see. The mining and railroad industries welcomed immigrant labor with few questions asked; and for a time, he worked fairly steadily in California and sent money home. Then larger events intervened. The Cristero Rebellion -- a militant Catholic attempt to overthrow Mexico's secular government -- broke out. Soon after the brutal suppression of the rebellion, the 1929 stock market crash devastated the American economy, spurring a backlash against migrant workers that resulted in mass deportations. Ramírez somehow avoided deportation. But through an apparent misreading of letters from his family, he had already decided never to return to Mexico, believing that the Cristero Rebellion had irreparably divided his household when it consumed his property. In 1931, the San Joaquin County police arrested him for vagrancy. And believing him incoherent, perhaps because of their own inability to speak Spanish, they had him committed to Stockton State Hospital." Read more. "Martín Ramírez: Drawings," San Jose Museum of Art, San Jose, CA, and at the Mexican Heritage Plaza La Galeria. Through Sept. 9.

Roberta Smith review of the Martín Ramírez exhibition, which originated at the American Folk Art Museum in New York: "Whatever ideas about art you hold dear, expect them to be healthily destabilized here. If a purely visual, white-cube experience of the autonomous art object is your thing, you may be startled by the illuminating correlations between the artist’s newly excavated biography and his pulsating images."Read more.