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Ortiz (Montañez Ortiz), Ralph (Raphel)locked

(b Brooklyn, New York, 1934).
  • Deborah Cullen

American performance artist, educator and founder of El Museo del Barrio, New York. Ortiz grew up in New York and received his BFA and MFA from Pratt Institute in 1964, and his PhD in Fine Arts and Fine Arts in Higher Education at the Teachers College of Columbia University, 1982.

In the late 1950s, Ortiz began exploring ritual and destruction. Taking found filmstrips, he placed them in a medicine bag and used a hatchet to cut them into pieces. He then spliced them together in random order, creating a series of short, cut-up films. This led to his first private, ritually transformed domestic objects between 1959 and 1961, which often included cushions, chairs and sofas from his studio worked over several days, and the Archaeological Finds series between 1961 and 1967. He authored Destructivism: A Manifesto between 1957 and 1962.

Carrying out public Destruction Ritual Realizations between 1965 and 1970, Ortiz was featured at the London Destruction in Art Symposium (DIAS) in 1966, where he presented seven public destructions. The performances were seen by a patient of psychoanalyst Artur Janov, and served as a catalyst for his “Primal Scream” theories. Ortiz became well-known for his Piano Destruction Concerts, which were televised. He performed live on the Johnny Carson show in 1968; the same year, he co-organized a second Destruction in Art Symposium at the Judson Gallery, New York, where in 1967 he had participated in the 12 Evenings of Manipulations. Ortiz’s environments and actions were linked to American Happenings and the anti-Vietnam war counterculture, as well to Gutai, Fluxus and other European movements such as the Viennese Actionists, rooted in a deeper, postwar existentialism.

An educator at the High School of Art and Design in early 1969, Ortiz was the founding director of El Museo del Barrio, created to serve the Puerto Rican and Latino constituencies of New York. Instead of a proposal to the Board of Education for a didactic package to serve East Harlem’s school children, Ortiz proposed an ambitious, multidisciplinary, international museum and resource center. While initial storefront locations and tentative fiscal resources meant that it offered a community center’s agility, it has developed into an important Fifth Avenue forum. From 1970 to 1971, he was also an active member of the Artist Worker’s Coalition. From 1972 Ortiz was on the faculty of Rutgers University and the Mason Gross School of the Arts since its inception. In 1979, Ortiz invented an inner visioning process he named “Physio-Psycho-Alchemy.” By the 1980s, he had turned to two-dimensional digital paintings, although he continued to create experimental digital video.

Ortiz has been honored with three retrospectives: El Museo del Barrio, 1988; the Whitney Museum of American Art, 1996; and the Jersey City Museum, 2006. His piano destructions now total over 80 international presentations and his works are in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art and El Museo del Barrio, all New York; the De Menil Collection, Houston, TX; the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art; the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; and the Ludwig Museum, Cologne, Germany.

See also: Performance art.


  • Rafael Montanez Ortiz: Years of the Warrior 1960 – Years of the Psyche 1988 (exh. cat., New York, Mus. Barrio, 1988)
  • K. Stiles: “Uncorrupted Joy: International Art Actions,” Out of Actions: Between Performance and the Object 1949–1979, ed. P. Schimmel (Los Angeles, CA, 1998), pp. 226–38
  • Unmaking: The Work of Raphael Moñtanez Ortiz (exh. cat., Jersey City, NJ, Mus., 2007)
  • C. Noriega: Raphael Montañez Ortiz (forthcoming)