Bermondsey Project Space presents art, photography and moving image from across the UK, offering a flagship venue for both emerging and established artists.
I visited the gallery on the 17th January were I was able to admire the art of Mel Ramos which, in a nutshell, represents the extreme expression of the ironic reaction to the cliches we often see in the advertising industry and in the mass media.
Born on July 24, 1935 in Sacramento, he began his artistic studies in his hometown in 1953. His first exhibition was held at the David Stuart Gallery in 1965 and he also had shows in Europe starting from 1971. The Oakland Museum in California organised his first retrospective exhibition in 1977.
Mel Ramos's painting is clearly inscribed in the pop art movement. His work is present in more than thirty public collections, including the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, the Guggenheim and the MoMA in New York or the Hamburger Kunsthalle.
On the occasion of its 75th anniversary and of the anniversary of 50 years of Pop-Art, he had a major retrospective exhibition at the Albertina in Vienna and at the Villa Stuck in Munich.
An artist of the diversion, refusing to provoke, Ramos sees in the 60's California an anticipation of our civilisation where images are omnipresent. By multiplying the representation of the female body without any sexual connotations but in the context of hijacked ads, Mel Ramos illustrates the derisory side of icons and symbols of the consumerist « religion ». This way, he also questions the true-false values that advertising and Hollywood put forward, starting with the emancipation of women. Focusing on the female figure and its natural side, he contributed to the contemporary evolution of the nude.
The Pop Art movement.
Mel Ramos, Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol exhibited together in a seminal show at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in 1963. It was the era of Playboy - then a publishing phenomenon, and of Marshall McLuhan’s ‘the medium is the message’ analysis of advertising manipulation. Ramos’ ironic commentaries on the use of sex to sell any commodity (and the Californian obsession with the body beautiful) reflected other American artists’ – like Claes Oldenburg, James Rosenquist, Tom Wesselmann and Wayne Thiebaud – reaction to the soft power of popular culture and the mass media. Pop Art rapidly became an influential movement that still resonates today, and Ramos is regarded as a key participant in its evolution.
Initially the Feminist movement of the 1970s, and now current social issues concerned with misogyny and the #MeToo movement, have redefined Ramos’ work as controversial. Even his depictions of famous comic book characters have come under negative scrutiny, when re-viewed through the lens of contemporary sensibilities. Nevertheless, his confrontational use of the female nude, configured with branded products, to generate an ‘instant recognition’ factor, has paved the way for the uninhibited, sexualised subject matter common in 21st century Post-Pop art.
The art of Mel Ramos is included in the Whitney Museum of American Art; Museum of Modern Art in New York; and a major exhibition was held at the Albertina in Vienna in 2011. His first solo show in the UK is at the Bermondsey Project Space in 2019.
The through line of this inter-generational show reminds us who our own heroes are, as Bowie reminded us “just for one day,” or in the case of Mel Ramos, for a lifetime and more.