Who is Ronald Markman?

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His name might be familiar to long-time customers of Alex Cooper who may remember the mini-retrospective we launched of the artist in 2020.  The April 6th auction gives us the opportunity to revisit his work in a new medium-sculpture.

Markman, who passed away in 2017, had been an artist since his childhood in the Bronx. He trained as a cartoonist in his teens, and later earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in fine arts through the GI Bill at Yale University, where he studied under Josef Albers. A member of the Chicago Imagists, his work has been shown at the Museum of Modern Art and the Metropolitan Museum in New York, the Art Institute in Chicago and the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, DC. While his works exhibit characteristics of American Visionary or Outsider Art, his classical and formal training prevent him from truly being characterized in this manner.

Markman’s work is full of whimsy and his personal perspective on the world.  A turning point in his career occurred in 1962 when he created the fantastical world he called “Mukfa.” Of Mukfa, Markman recounted, “I wanted something slightly obscene, because the world is obscene as you probably know.” He described Mukfa as a “fantasy realm of unbridled absurdity.”

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In 1965, Markman joined the Terry Dintenfass Galley in New York City.  Dintenfass, a prominent New York City gallery owner, had built a reputation as a dealer of iconic artists outside of the mainstream including Jacob Lawrence, Horace Pippin and Ben Shahn.  In reviewing Markman’s first Dintenfass show in November 1965, John Canady of the New York Times wrote “Paul Klee seems to have been crossed with Mad magazine in these extremely detailed and often hilarious fantasies. The paintings are big and bright; a series of etchings are worth very close attention… everywhere the hilarity has an undertone of ‘Better laugh while the laughing’s good’.” 

The upcoming auction offers three memorable bronzes from later in Markman’s storied career.  Lot 1232 “Town Scene” appears to be Mukfa itself, composed of cartoonlike buildings and vehicles.  Lots 1240 and 1247 depict humorous figures from the “Tie Series.”


Lot 1232, Ronald Markman. Town Scene, bronze


Lot 1240, Ronald Markman. Yellow Flower Tie, bronze


Lot 1247, Ronald Markman. Man with Blue Striped Tie, bronze

Don’t miss the chance to add part of Markman’s fantastical world to your art collection.


To read Ronald Markman's 2017 New York Times obituary, click here.


Kathleen Hamill
Director of Modern & Contemporary Art