Mel Ramos (born 1935) is an American figurative painter. His work centers on controversial and highly sexualized paintings of female nudes, typically incorporating images of popular culture and celebrities. His updated take on Manet’s Olympia, from Ramos’s Salute to Art History series (1974), blurs the line between the highly aestheticized nudes of fine art and contemporary pornography. The central female figure is given a plastic, California pinup makeover—complete with tan lines and bleach-blond hair—while her attendant sports a “stylish” afro, a distinctly politicized marker of the time. Embracing the tradition of Pop Art, Ramos approaches the canonic status of Manet’s Olympia with a sense of humor. In doing so, he draws attention to the parodic nature of the original Olympia, as well as his own irreverent take.
Manet’s Olympia has become almost a self-referential type of the female nude, in the process losing some of its shock value. In blurring the boundary between fine art and mass culture (with specific regard to the female nude), Ramos exploits the conventional classification of images to expose and question the value system surrounding female nudes. As Lynda Nead writes, “if you know the terms of debate then they can be played with, disrupted and this opens the possibility for challenging and progressive representations of the female body.”1
1. Lynda Nead, The Female Nude: Art, Obscenity and Sexuality, New York: Routledge, 1992, 11.
Mel Ramos, American, born 1935
Manet’s Olympia, from an untitled portfolio (“Salute to Art History” series), 1974
Color collotype on wove paper
Sheet: 20 1/16 x 26 1/2 in. Image: 14 9/16 x 22 7/16 in.
Gift of Ernesto Ostheimer; PR.980.286.1
© Mel Ramos/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY