Heavier than air: Paul Ramirez Jonas
Brown University, Rhode Island School of Design
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Paul Ramirez Jonas (born 1965, Pomona, California) is a contemporary artist and arts educator whose work currently explores the potential between artist and audience, artwork and public. Many of Ramirez Jonas' projects use pre-existing texts, models, or materials to reenact or prompt actions and reinsert himself into his own audience. His work has participated in the Johannesburg Biennale, the Seoul Biennial, the Shanghai Biennial, the 28th São Paulo Biennial, the 53rd Venice Biennale, and the 7th Bienal do Mercosul, Porto Alegre, Brazil. Ramírez Jonas currently lives, works, and teaches in New York City.
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In 1987, Ramirez Jonas graduated with a BA from Brown University, and went on to earn his MFA in painting from the Rhode Island School of Design in 1989.
Over the last twenty-five years Ramírez Jonas has created works that range from large-scale public installations and monumental sculptures to intimate drawings, performances and videos. Through his practice he seeks to challenge the definitions of art and the public and to engineer active audience participation and exchange. His 2010 Creative Time project, Key to the City, for example, involved 25,000 participants and centered around a key as a vehicle for exploring social contracts pertaining to trust, access, and belonging. Keys have featured repeatedly in his work as symbols of access and exclusion, public and private ownership. Coins also are a reoccurring motif allowing the artist to question notions of value, circulation and societal rituals or behaviors.
In addition to conceiving public projects, both permanent (Taylor Square, Cambridge, MA, and Hudson River Park, New York City) and temporary (such as Talisman, 28th Bienal de São Paulo, 2008), Ramírez Jonas has been the subject of numerous solo exhibitions at venues including Pinacoteca do Estado, São Paulo, Brazil; the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, Ridgefield, Connecticut; the Jack S. Blanton Museum of Art, Austin, Texas; and the Ikon Gallery, Birmingham, UK. His work has also been presented in major group exhibitions, most recently Under the Same Sun, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, and Residue of Memory, Aspen Art Museum. He has participated in the 1st Johannesburg Biennale; the 1st Seoul Biennial; the 6th Shanghai Biennial; the 28th São Paulo Biennial; the 53rd Venice Biennial, and the 7th Bienal do Mercosul, Porto Alegre, Brazil.
In 2008, at the 28th São Paulo Biennial, Ramirez Jonas arranged for members of the public to a receive a key to the front door of the biennial venue, the Ciccillo Matarazzo Pavilion. Each person who received a key was required to leave behind a copy of one of their own keys as well as sign a contract that established an agreement between themselves, the curators, the artist and the biennial foundation.
For the 7th Mercosul Biennial in Porto Alegre, Brazil in 2009, Ramirez Jonas altered three large boulders by carving into them a space for monument plaques to be placed. Instead of creating permanent monuments to a State honored figure or event, he turned the monuments into platforms for cork boards for the fleeting message or personal note-the ephemeral voice of his public.
In the summer of 2010, Ramirez Jonas created the Key to the City project in New York City with Creative Time. Keys were distributed until June 27, the locks will remain accessible throughout the summer, until September 4, 2010.
Ramirez Jonas has said of his work: "I create as I speak: I consider myself merely a reader of texts. The pre-existing text I treat as a score: a diary, an old photo, a footpath, music, etc. The reading can take the form of performance, sculpture, photo, or video. Thus, a musical score results in a sculpture, a diary, in a video, or the plans for a flying machine in a photo. In my works, what looks like invention is but re-enactment. Being a reader, don't I have more in common with the public than with the author? I find that commonality in working with pre-existing materials."
Ramirez Jonas sees his role as "extending beyond the private reader, and into someone who invites viewers to join in. The result of this shift is the reassertion of a contract between the artwork and its public."
His honors include grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Joan Mitchell Foundation, ArtMatters, the Howard Foundation, the International Studio Program in Sweden, and the Atlantic Center for the Arts, among others.
Ramirez Jonas has taught at Rhode Island School of Design, Cal Arts, Columbia University, New York University, and the School of the Museum of Fine Arts Boston. He has been teaching for the past fifteen years at a number of institutions such as Columbia University, New York University, Cal Arts, RISD, and Bard College. He is currently an Associate Professor at Hunter College, where he has been since 2007. Ramírez Jonas is represented by Koenig and Clinton in New York City and Galeria Nara Roesler in São Paulo.
He is married to fellow RISD alumnus Janine Antoni.