ENTERTAINMENT ARTS & CULTURE CAROLINA A. MIRANDA

Former Santa Monica Museum of Art — now the ICA LA — will open in September with show by Martín Ramírez

Martín Ramírez, the 20th-century outsider artist known for his hallucinatory depictions of trains, tunnels and gentlemanly caballeros on horseback, will kick off the exhibition program at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles in September. The show will represent the formal re-opening of the institution formerly known as the Santa Monica Museum of Art. 

The museum, which was previously based at Bergamot Station in Santa Monica, last year announced a move to a new location in downtown Los Angeles, as well as a name change to ICA LA. It will inhabit a 12,700-square-foot former manufacturing facility on East Seventh Street that is currently being renovated by L.A.-based wHY Architecture. 

The Ramírez exhibition, officially titled “Martín Ramírez: His Life in Pictures, Another Interpretation,” will also serve as the institution’s contribution to the upcoming Pacific Standard Time series, exploring the art and design of Los Angeles and Latin America.

“It was a convergence of opportunity,” says ICA LA director Elsa Longhauser. “We were planning the show when we were still in Santa Monica. The timing of our construction and the opening of the museum made it a perfect moment to introduce the ICA with Martín Ramírez.”

Martin Ramirez's horse and rider, created circa 1950, is flanked by the artist's signature arrangement of repeating lines.
Martin Ramirez's horse and rider, created circa 1950, is flanked by the artist's signature arrangement of repeating lines. (Tom VanEynde / Collection of Jim Nutt and Gladys Nilsson)

The exhibition will be the first comprehensive show in Los Angeles devoted to the noted outsider artist, a Mexican migrant laborer who spent most of his life confined to California mental institutions following a diagnosis of schizophrenia. (He passed away in 1963.) It will include approximately 50 works by the artist, made throughout his institutionalization, including a rare 17-foot scroll that has never before been publicly displayed.

“The work has been rolled up and it’s literally in tatters,” says Longhauser. “It’s currently being conserved in Chicago by a very august paper conservator.”

Ramírez was the subject of a critically acclaimed solo exhibition at the American Folk Art Museum in New York in 2007. But the ICA LA show seeks to cast him in a new light.

An undated collage-drawing by Martin Ramirez features a male figure sandwiched between a bull and a horse rider.
An undated collage-drawing by Martin Ramirez features a male figure sandwiched between a bull and a horse rider. (Tom VanEynde / Collection of Jim Nutt and Gladys Nilsson)

“His work has mostly been discussed within the context of Western art, outsider art,” says Longhauser. “Ramírez has been compared to artists like Kandinsky and Sol Lewitt and Frank Stella because of the lines that he uses. This will look at his work through the lens of Latin American imagery, Latin American culture and the contemporary issues of migration and incarceration.”

Debuting alongside Ramírez will be a pair of contemporary shows organized by ICA LA curator Jamillah James. This will include a temporary work for the museum’s courtyard entrance, created by Los Angeles-based painter Sarah Cain, as well as an installation by New York-based artist Abigail DeVille, who is known for creating immersive pieces that draw from the neighborhoods in which they are installed.

The ICA LA opens to the public on Sept. 9.

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