CHUCK RAMIREZ RETROSPECTIVE AT THE McNAY

Last time I saw Chuck Ramirez, we stood in front of his large photograph of an empty heart-shaped chocolate box at the former Ruiz-Healy Art gallery in Olmos Park. We hadn’t seen each other in a long while so we spent some time chatting and catching up. We originally met when we both worked for San Antonio Monthly magazine. It was fun to reconnect with a former colleague who also happened to be one of San Antonio most prominent artists. And then, barely a couple of weeks later I read that he had been killed in a bicycle accident in the King William District.

Could there be a more obvious example of life’s fragility and unpredictability?  Coincidentally, transience and mortality were among the subjects Ramirez explored in his work, along with more personal imagery and themes of consumption and waste in our culture.

Now, seven years after his death, the McNay Art Museum has decided to feature a retrospective of his opus, with more than 100 of the artist’s pieces in several media – photography, prints, installations and video. In addition, nine decorated Christmas Trees he created for the late, collector and Artpace founder Linda Pace, are also on display. Titled “All this and Heaven Too,” It’s the first solo exhibit of a San Antonio artist to be mounted in the Stieren Center for Exhibitions since it opened in 2008, noted curator René Paul Barilleaux who organized the retrospective.

“In 2015, Patricia Ruiz-Healy (who manages Ramirez’s artistic estate) approached us about an exhibit like this, and I thought it was a great idea, and put it on our schedule,” he said. “It was an opportunity to put Chuck’s work into a larger context, beyond the local geography and even beyond just contemporary photography, and place it in the context of contemporary art in general.”

Barilleaux further pointed out that Ramirez, who worked as a graphic designer for years, used the techniques of graphic design and product photography and applied them to fine art. “He transformed the objects he photographed into highly personal and symbolic images,” said the curator.

Ramirez’s large photos often show ordinary objects – such as a broom, a packed slouchy garbage bag, the contents of a suitcase, and, yes, the empty chocolate box mentioned above – against a plain, white background. There’s humor in his work but it’s also a way to tell a story about life and culture through inanimate objects. His Flower Arrangement series, however, addresses the always disturbing realization that life is fleeting and decline is an inevitable part of it. These photos were inspired by the bouquets left behind in hospital rooms, slightly faded, forlorn, abandoned.

The retrospective was put together by borrowing works from private collections, Ramirez’s estate and other art institutions. The exhibit closes Jan. 14, 2018.

DIA DE CHUCK Free Family Day is scheduled for 1-4 p.m. Sunday, Nov 5. Activities include art workshops, music, a performance by The Guadalupe Dance Company, a raffle, and more, both in the gallery and outside on the lawn and Sculpture Terrace. The McNay is located at 6000 N. New Braunfels Ave; 210-805-1754.
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Photos (from top): “Seven Days,” “Candy Tray,” “Purse Portrait”