Katy Siegel on Chuck Ramirez. (First Take)

Artforum International, January 2003 | Go to article overview

Katy Siegel on Chuck Ramirez. (First Take)


I FIRST SAW CHUCK RAMIREZ'S WORK IN A 1997 San Antonio solo show called "Coconut," the Latino equivalent to the African American slur "Oreo," meaning dark on the outside, white on the inside. On the walls hung crisp photographs of coconuts, both whole and cracked open--a deadpan illustration of the word and, at the same time, a portrait of the artist.

Ramirez, who is forty, has had several shows in San Antonio, at Sala Diaz, Finesilver Gallery, and ArtPace. His photographs, of ordinary objects against white backgrounds, are large scale and sharply focused. The unforgiving style splits the difference between the food photos on Chinese restaurant menus and Richard Avedon's point-blank portraits. Quarantine, 2000, depicts bouquets retrieved from hospital rooms, the flowers' hothouse glamour offset by their past-prime wilt and droop. Ground Chuck, Lengua (Tongue), and Sausage (all from the "Meat" series, 2002) are tough pictures of butchered flesh but without the blood-and-guts drama of Francis Bacon. In the "Ingredients" series, 2002--which includes works with titles like Spaghettios, Strawberry Pop-Tarts, and Bologna--he lists the organic and polysyllabic chemical components of popular prepared foods in uniform, generic print, like a Kitchen Kosuth. Ramirez is by day a graphic designer for one of Texas's biggest grocery store chains, and his lack of sentimen tality toward food is a bit like a farmer's toward animals.

Not all of his art is so brutally matter-of-fact: His pinata pictures, for instance, have all the sinister, poignant charm of works by Jeff Koons or Takashi Murakami. These papier-mache playthings are souvenirs from birthday parties and celebrations held for various friends for whom they're named; they also become portraits of those friends, fragile and tender. Marked by the violence that released their yummy treats, the princesses and kitty cats and mice often lack heads (Ethel) or even bodies (Alex) (both 2002)--and in each case the birthday boy or girl probably wielded the stick.

Like the coconuts, the food labels, and the pinatas, much of Ramirez's work takes on some aspect of the relationship between outside and inside. …

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