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 Pedro Ramirez Vazquez  (1919 - 2013)

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Lived/Active: Mexico      Known for: modernist architecture, sculpture

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Gallito inglés
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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Please note: Artists not classified as American in our database may have limited biographical data compared to the extensive information about American artists.

Following is The New York Times obituary of the architect and sculptor.

Pedro Ramírez Vázquez, Celebrated Mexican Architect, Dies at 94

By SAM DILLON
Published: April 17, 2013

   
Pedro Ramírez Vázquez, the architect who led many of Mexico’s landmark Modernist construction projects of the mid-20th century, including museums, the country’s largest sports stadium and the shrine that attracts its most important religious pilgrimage, died on Tuesday, his 94th birthday, in Mexico City.

His death was announced by Mexico’s National Arts Council.

Over six decades in which much of Mexico evolved from a mostly peasant society into a modern industrial state, Mr. Ramírez and his collaborators built a series of monuments to Mexican culture, including the National Museum of Anthropology, the Azteca soccer stadium, the Legislative Palace and the Basilica of Guadalupe, all in Mexico City. Millions of Mexican Roman-Catholic pilgrims converge on the basilica each spring.

Mr. Ramírez designed the national headquarters of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, which ruled Mexico from 1929 through 2000 and whose all-powerful presidents commissioned most of his projects. He built many government structures, including its Foreign and Labor Ministries, and served in government himself, as secretary of human settlements and public works from 1977 to 1982.

Outside Mexico he was known for designing the Mexican pavilions at several World’s Fairs, including the one inaugurated in 1964 in Queens.

His public profile rose, and was marred, four years later when he led the organizing committee of the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City, which he orchestrated as a showcase of Mexico’s modernization and the government’s posture as a nonaligned power during the cold war.

An army massacre of scores of antigovernment protesters days before the games provoked an international outcry, and though there is no evidence that he helped organize the violence, as president of the Olympics committee he defended the crackdown and hewed to government propaganda in asserting that international journalists had exaggerated the bloodletting.

 As an architect, Mr. Ramírez  left his mark less as a master designer than as a bureaucratically powerful technocrat.

“He knew how to maximize windows of opportunity not only to produce structures but to expand the definition of what an architect is and does,” Luis M. Castañeda, a professor of art history at Syracuse University, said in a 2012 interview.

“To think of him as somebody who designed buildings is not to take account of all the roles he played,” said Dr. Castañeda, who interviewed Mr. Ramírez several times. “He wasn’t the one constructing the models or sketching the drawings; he was the one securing the commission from the president.”

In a 1985 interview with the newsmagazine Proceso, Mr. Ramírez recalled how he was put in charge of some of those projects. At a literary gathering at midcentury he had met a rising politician, Adolfo López Mateos, and they became friends. In 1952, Mr.  López Mateos became secretary of labor and commissioned Mr. Ramírez, without competitive bidding, to build a new Labor Ministry headquarters — as well as a new residence for Mr. López Mateos himself. The two men conversed one day during a pause in that construction.

“The aspiration of an architect in the past was to build a cathedral; what is it today?” Mr. Ramírez, then in his early 30s, recalled being asked by Mr. López Mateos.
 
“An archaeology museum,” the young architect answered. After Mr. López Mateos became president in 1958, he announced plans for a spectacular new museum, and put Mr. Ramírez in charge.

What became known as the National Museum of Anthropology remains Mr. Ramírez’s richest architectural legacy.

“Without any doubt, that’s what he’ll be remembered for,” said Miquel Adriá, director of the architectural magazine Arquine. “He succeeded in projecting in modern form many aspects that we had found in Mexican  architecture from pre-Hispanic on into colonial times, including a generous use of space and the element of monumentality.”

In the museum’s construction, Mr. Ramírez oversaw scores of subordinate architects and engineers; several of the country’s other premier muralists, including Rufino Tamayo; and archaeologists and ethnographers, who in a national survey extracted artifacts large and small from every corner of Mexico to build the museum’s collection.

Inaugurated in 1964 at the base of Chapultepec Park, the museum, marble-clad, encompasses 26 exhibition rooms surrounding a vast central patio. There a colossal pillar supports an umbrellalike roof, from which a fountain showers rainlike water to flagstones below. A geometric grill reminiscent of ancient Mayan ornamentation encloses its second floor. The museum’s monumental scale and ceremonial air still impress thousands of visitors daily, half a century after its opening.

Mr. Ramírez was born in Mexico City on April 16, 1919, in the waning years of the Mexican revolution. His father was a bookseller with a shop in Mexico City’s historic center. Two of Pedro’s older brothers studied law and pursued government careers, one as a minister on the Mexican Supreme Court and another as Mexico’s secretary of labor. Both died in the 1990s. Mr. Ramírez is survived by four children. As a teenager in the 1930s, when President Lázaro Cárdenas was consolidating Mexico’s post-revolutionary state, Mr. Ramírez attended public high school. He later studied architecture at the national university, graduating in 1943.

He became the protégé of Jaime Torres Bodet, a politically connected intellectual, who was named secretary of education that same year and began a nationwide school construction campaign. Mr. Ramírez signed on, developing a low-cost, prefabricated prototype for classrooms and teacher housing that was used for decades at thousands of rural school sites.

A few years later, during the construction of a sprawling new campus for the national university, Mr. Ramírez headed the team designing the medical school. He created a Modernist structure, raised on stilts, with a curved facade adorned with a mural depicting Mexico’s multiracial culture.

In designing the Mexico pavilions for World’s Fairs in Brussels in 1958, Seattle in 1962 and New York in 1964, Mr. Ramírez assembled a team of architects and others, many of whom later collaborated with him on the Azteca stadium, inaugurated in 1965, and in organizing the 1968 Olympics, the first to be held in a third world country.

In the publicity campaign preceding the 1968 games, Mr. Ramírez marketed Mexico as a land of industrial modernity built on ancient roots, a nation of youth but above all of peace, the latter emphasized by the placement of images of white doves throughout Mexico City. But the army attack on antigovernment protesters at the Tlatelolco Plaza overwhelmed the rhetoric about peace and provoked new criticism of ruling officials, including Mr. Ramírez.

 Octavio Paz, the Mexican poet, wrote a retrospective critique of Mr. Ramírez’s anthropology museum in 1969. Mr. Paz viewed the Aztecs as one Mesoamerican culture among many in the region’s rich pre-Hispanic past. He argued that the museum’s exhibitions distorted history by glorifying the Aztecs, whom ruling party mythmakers had put at the core of national identity: an ancient, ruthless order sustained by the charisma of absolute rulers — not unlike the country’s 20th-century presidents.

Other critiques followed, but Mr. Ramirez’s place in Mexican architectural history seemed assured, and not only because he led the design of so many public spaces. As Fernanda Canales, an architect and writer, noted in an April 2009 article in the journal Letras Libres, on the occasion of Mr. Ramírez’s 90th birthday, “His architecture synthesizes the most archaic forms of the culture at the same time it exalts Mexico’s condition as the first Latin American country to modernize.”


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