When: Thursdays, 10 a.m.-9 p.m., Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays, 10 a.m.-4 p.m., Saturdays, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. and Sundays, 12-5 p.m. Continues through Jan. 14, 2018
If the name doesn’t ring a bell, if you’ve spent time in San Antonio you may have come across one of his images, likely a large-scale, micro–detailed, blazingly lit and colorful depiction of, say, a broom, a shopping bag, or a wilting bouquet. You can encounter these in private homes, in the downtown H-E-B, numerous collections public and private, in business and medical facilities, at the San Antonio International Airport, and on the covers of local publications. And here’s the simplified bio: Chuck Ramirez was a San Antonio-born artist who went to Jefferson High School, studied art and graphic design at San Antonio College, and worked as a graphic designer for H-E-B and San Antonio Magazine (before its purchase and transportation into an anodyne glossy). He left the 9-to-5 in order to launch himself into the contemporary art world. As a gay, HIV-positive Latino man, Ramirez, alongside artists Alejandro Díaz and Franco Mondini Ruiz, spearheaded a queer-lensed, rasquache-informed new wave of humor-laced, graphically arresting art. He quickly became one of the city’s most loved artists and celebrated personalities, and a deeply involved and welcoming member of the creative community, before dying an untimely death seven years ago at the age of 48 as the result of a bicycle accident. If there’s one aspect of the Chuck Ramirez narrative that gallerist Patricia Ruiz-Healy would like to disrupt, though, it’s that ascent from humble graphic design career into the contemporary art world. “It’s too easy,” she says, “too dismissive. His art transcends this classification.” But he was often un- or under-paid per-gig, and the exigencies of making a freelance living, at times, got in the way of the kind of regular studio practice that gets residencies, art fairs, and representation. At the time of his death, Ruiz-Healy was well on her way to amending this state of affairs. She was in the process of exposing his work to international curators and heads of museums, and representing him at major art fairs. These steps now seem to be catapulting him onto a much larger contemporary art stage than San Antonio’s. And there is no better staging area than the McNay, where “All This and Heaven Too” encompasses the whole of the Stieren wing. It’s an undertaking that took Rene Paul Barilleaux (Head of Curatorial Affairs at the McNay) more than two years — constant communication with collectors and institutions combined with 500,000 details including shipping, mounting, knocking down walls, painting and restoring — but he has pulled it together brilliantly. The result of this long preparation and meticulous design (complete with a to-scale recreation of Ramirez’s 1999 Artpace show “Long Term Survivor”) is a bright, exciting, searching and deep exhibition, the finest liberation from and promotion of Ramirez’s context as I’ve ever seen. It’s so deep and all-encompassing an experience, whether or not you know Chuck Ramirez or his work personally, that I hesitate to give spoilers.