The passing of Bettie Ringma last week had special resonance here at Gallery 98. From 1975 to 1982, Ringma was both the partner and a creative collaborator of Marc H Miller, Gallery 98’s founder. Their collaborative work from 40 years ago has continued to connect them, especially in recent years as it has enjoyed renewed attention. Earlier this year the Polaroid photographs they took in the bars of Amsterdam in 1979/80 were exhibited at the Stigter Van Doesburg gallery. Although Ringma was already in the final stages of cancer, she traveled from New York to Amsterdam to attend the exhibition opening. She remained in her native Holland following the opening, dying peacefully just a few weeks after the exhibition closed.
Ringma is probably best known through the series of proto-selfies that she and Miller created as conceptual art. Of special note is “Bettie Visits CBGB,” a photo portfolio that was designated a “Super Book” by David Owen’s Idea Books, and became the subject of a half-hour radio program in England. “Bettie and the Ramones,” a larger-than-life 1978 oil painting based on one of the CBGB photographs was exhibited at the New Museum in 2012, and later at the Ramones exhibition at the Queens Museum in 2016. The painting by artist Curt Hoppe was one of a number of projects he collaborated on with Miller and Ringma from 1978-79. Reviewing the Ramones exhibition in Art News, the influential rock critic Robert Christgau singled out the painting as a “stunner”:
“… a rendering of one of the many snapshots the Dutch-born, Bowery-dwelling art therapist, bohemian hustler, and selfie pioneer Bettie Ringma got the CBGB greats to join her in. Small-breasted and shag-haired although wearing a partly unbuttoned magenta blouse, Ringma looks so at home standing between Joey and Dee Dee I found myself wondering for a second whether I’d missed this brief quintet phase of their career.”
Born in Ermelo and raised in Haarlem NL, Ringma moved to Washington DC in 1973 where she studied art therapy at George Washington University. She and Miller met on the National Mall where he was collecting drawings for an interactive conceptual art project. Their shared interest in “projective drawing” would later lead to the series “Unforgettable Moments Drawn by Real Life People”. Ringma brought social sensitivity and psychological nuance to the collaborative work she did with Miller. An accomplished photographer, Ringma continued to take pictures right up to the end of her life.