Durban Segnini Gallery proudly invites you to the opening reception of Ramirez Villamizar
Until Dec 20, 2007
The stern rigor of Eduardo Ramírez Villamizar
By Álvaro Medina
Institute of Aesthetic Research
National University of Colombia
Ramírez Villamizar is, without a doubt, one of the continent’s master pillars of contemporary art. For more than twenty years, I have had the good fortune of observing up close the evolution of his constant creativity, an evolution that has developed thanks to the very strict means which he has known to restrain through the most strict rigor. That approach has allowed us to constantly uncover his exciting world of spatial mysteries.
Los Espinos, September 14, 1994
In every worthy artist’s trajectory there is always a phase of major production which manifests itself when the artist resolves certain isolated issues, with the ensuing result that his work takes an apparently unexpected turn and his production from then on goes on smoothly, resulting in a number of significant works. This exhibition is a compilation of pieces that belong, precisely, to those years during which the Colombian sculptor Eduardo Ramírez Villamizar gave us the best of himself. It contains sculptures whose importance he acknowledged in a 1986 interview, where he stated: “They are the most expressive works that I have carried out in my entire career.” Those knowledgeable about this matter had already recognized it as such. Germán Rubiano Caballero, curator of the 1985 exhibition that revealed Ramírez’s new facet, saw in the series “powerful constructions” of forms that alluded to “eternity,” an assessment that I will attempt to expand upon on these pages.??
Up to and including 1983, the sculptor’s production throughout the course of more than thirty years of non-figurative geometric abstraction was dotted with scattered achievements. I am referring to works that stood out mainly because they dealt with topics that in one way or another evoked the pre-Columbian world. And it is not that the language he employed did not count during that period—but rather that since the beginning, in 1952, the artist invested it with such rigor and eloquence that afterwards the only alternative open to him for evolving was to follow the path of his own logic. Throughout the course of this evolution, by the way, Ramírez went from being an oil painter to being a creator of white reliefs, and later on of white three-dimensional structures. Made out of wood or of Plexiglass, the sculptures were monochromatic at first, later becoming polychromatic. Finally, made of unpainted iron after 1984, they remained covered with the patina of the rust caused by time, giving them the temporal dimension to which Rubiano refers.??
Eduardo Ramírez Villamizar reached his artistic apogee after visiting Perú in December, 1983. He saw Inca buildings and monuments in the Cusco area and talked of this event in the following manner: “Machu Picchu opened sensory doors for me, pointing to a different and joyful route.” His senses, not his reasoning, guided his production from then on. For this reason, the first exhibition of works produced during his new phase, presented at the Museo de Arte de la Universidad Nacional [National University Art Museum] in 1985, was entitled Recuerdos de Machu Picchu [Memories of Machu Picchu]. His work acquired a totally unedited poetic emphasis in this series, without altering the geometric asceticism which characterized the artist. I refer to geometric asceticism to differentiate Ramírez from painters and sculptors who rely on geometry to make lavish use of visually attractive decorative, ornamental or optical components, the raison d’être in Jesús Soto’s lines that, by way of epigraph, serve to introduce this text.?? When the sculptor abandoned polychromatic metal to work with iron plates, his work reached a hierarchic order that was not unrelated to what he had seen in Machu Picchu. It so happened that Ramírez discovered in Perú a world of such complexity that its possibilities turned varied and diverse. With this about-face, the attraction of old that he had felt towards pre-Columbian art ceased to be episodic and became a constant feature. If the neo-Classicists had their paradigms in Greece and Rome, if Monet preferred Japanese depictions and Picasso African carvings, Ramírez focused his source of inspiration on pre-Hispanic art. “One of my most repeated and pleasant rituals (…) has been my visits to the Museum of Gold [of Bogotá], a privileged place that defies my emotions and nourishes my imagination,” he wrote in the catalog for the exhibition that was presented in 1990 at the Tamayo Museum of Mexico City. We may conclude from this quotation that his point of reference was similar—although not the same and with different intentions—as that of the ceramist Paul Gaugin, or that of a certain Gustave Moreau, or of a Henry Moore or a Richard Long—just to mention Europeans, a group of artists that extracted an endless number of concepts, languages, signs or themes from indigenous American cultures.?
The Colombian with the “very strict resources” and “stern rigor” that Soto described was always curt, contained—cold, almost—in treating means of expression, while at the same time appearing passionate and sensitive in handling the themes. As he stated to me on a certain occasion regarding the 1984 about-face, he attempted to express eternal spiritual values apart from the religious realm. Ramírez devoted himself to working with the force of a primitive artist, but one who relied on basic procedures of the industrial era such as the cutting of steel plates and autogenous welding. The results may be appreciated in Terrazas de Machu Picchu(1984), Acueducto (1985), Manto emplumado (1988) and Paisaje de Machu Picchu (1989). In Ramírez’s documentary about heritage, Manto emplumado also appears under the title Traje ceremonial inca (1986), changing the title and the date even though the formal solution is strictly the same—however, it may simply be due to an error in the transcription. I mention both titles because the second one is much more specific by stipulating that it refers to an article of clothing used by the Incas in their rituals. This means that the sculptor was being specific, and this attitude is the one that guided the meaning of the work he carried out until his death in 2004*.
In 1992, I published the essay entitled “Eighteen Notes to Understand a Sculptor” on the series devoted to Machu Picchu, where I point out that Ramírez “had abandoned the generic pre-Columbianism of his previous phases and had considerably broadened, with his own personal approach, the territories of his aesthetic. Titles went on to become concrete references. Themes appeared imbued with mystery. (…) Ritual took hold of forms. Imagination put itself at the service of emotion.” Let us remember that Machu Picchu is the only Inca city that remained intact throughout the centuries thanks to the fact that it remained hidden during the entire Spanish colonial period, only being discovered in 1911. Built on the side of a steep mountain, it is an impressive city due to the laborious manner in which the topography was carved out to create solid layered platforms using containment walls, an option that allowed for the creation of an urban space that was unique in the history of civilization. Additionally, it has an impressive architecture because of its configuration and of the shine of the mineral material of the rock that was used. These two peculiarities served to determine the layered breaks in Ramírez’s sculptures, as well as the configuration and the shine of the mineral in the rusted iron that he used from then on.??
Two other considerations by Rubiano Caballero deserve to be mentioned now, as they illustrate the sculptor’s secret intentions. The critic and historian suggests in the first one, published in 1989 in the magazineArte en Colombia Internacional, that the series grouped under the Machu Picchu title “is characterized by the presence of major joined planes that remind us of the polygonal ashlars of the majestic Inca architecture.” For the second one, he took notice of Acueducto and of one other work to observe that their structures “are enormous walls.” The two quotations combined allow us to determine that Ramírez was evoking the Incas’ strict construction technique of non-plastered walls that vibrate visually thanks to the precise juxtaposition of perfectly cut, aligned and arranged stones. With a procedure as simple as this one, the Colombian sculptor devoted himself to paying tribute to the ambit that originated the vast expansion of the Inca Empire, taking into account both the material achievements of the great South American civilization and also its natural surroundings and cultural ramifications.?
Almost all of the works in this exhibition derive from buildings, hence the fact that they should evoke platforms or terraces, but also temples**, walls, altars and subterranean ducts that carry water even to this day. One of the works refers to the natural landscape that has been altered by the hand of man, another one to the feather fabrics used in solemn ceremonies, and a third one depicts snakes moving atop each other, this latter work inspired on the fact that the snake is a sacred animal in the mythologies of the entire American continent. Ramírez set himself to the task of branding with hard iron aspects related to the natural world, the constructed world and the ritualistic world. The poet and essayist Santiago Mutis was correct when he wrote that “Ramírez’s abstract sculpture is not as abstract as they say, for it has a body and a soul (form and theme).” Let us add to it that with Eduardo Ramírez Villamizar, form and theme blend into one another. Why? Because when he structures his virtual volumes, he consciously evokes what was previously structured by man.
December 3rd, 2007
5 – 8 pm
From Dec 4 to Dec 20, 2007
noon – 7 pm