A short history of Mel Ramos.

Mel Ramos's pictures of babes posing with giant Coke bottles and spark plugs were considered Pop in the '60s, so he became a canonical artist early in his career. Then he did a series of women posing with animals, which were considered "bad taste." Then feminist theory came along, equating the admiring gaze of a man with rape, and suddenly his whole oeuvre was suspect. By the early '90s, Arts magazine disgustedly wrote off his paintings as "masturbation plates." What's awkward is, he's Hispanic, and by the early '90s the (white, elitist) art world was bending over backward to be "multicultural." What do you do when the culture you're fetishizing fetishizes women? Best to just ignore him. Then lesbian artist/critic Collier Schorr wrote a review in Artforum proclaiming that she always considered Ramos's babes to be "hot." Then some Euro-conceptualist did a performance piece with a live nude girl posing on top of a Ramos-esque painting of a raccoon. Then John Currin and Lisa Yuskavage made careers out of painting tacky female nudes. By 2000, a Ramos nude-with-cow was hanging proudly in a group show at Andrea Rosen Gallery in New York.

And Mel lived happily ever after.

Mel Ramos, Young Girl Before a
Mirror #2,
oil on canvas, 48" x 35"

- tom moody 5-28-2001 6:04 am

When I was in art school, we used to do a little slumming at the amazing Meisel Gallery. They showed Photorealism, which was hot in those days. They had Richard Estes, whose street scenes were perhaps the most celebrated examples of the genre (they didn't have Chuck Close), but they also had an endless supply of pin-up girl paintings. Mel Ramos' were Pop, while John Kacere's panty-clad hips were Photorealist (the paintings, that is; I don't know what he was wearing), but for all its titillation, the stuff had an imprimatur of high art. It was representation in the Minimalist era, and some people took it seriously that way, though we did have to work at it a bit to come up with the proper intellectual support system. Unfortunately, ironic distance poses problems for porno (Tom Wesselman's classic Pop nudes don't have quite the same effect as Ramos'). In the end, I got out of school while the getting was good, and Photorealism fell out of fashion, I think because it wouldn't cast its lot with Appropriation. Chuck Close turned out to be a real artist, but not a photo-realist, and Meisel turned into a collectibles shop instead of a gallery, but at least they're up front about what they're marketing.
- alex 5-30-2001 6:30 pm

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