Center for Puerto Rican Studies
It is with great sadness that the family of Mario César Romero announces his passing. Mario César passed away on April 14, 2020 in Manhattan, NY.
Mario was born in Manhattan to Maria Luisa and Mario Esteban Romero on January 6, 1942. He graduated from Fordham University, with a degree in Art history, but he also attended the University of Puerto Rico.
An art curator and historian, he was deeply involved in the East Harlem community and a champion of the arts and Puerto Rican artists. He dedicated his life to promoting the history and culture of Puerto Rico in lectures and classes he gave at various universities in New York.
He is survived by his sister, Migdalia Romero, and two nieces, Larisa Ortiz and Susan Romero Anselmi.
The family wishes to extend our sincere thanks to the nurses and medical workers who cared for him and helped him in his last days and months at the Upper East Side Rehabilitation and Nursing Center.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be given to El Museo del Barrio at 1230 fifth avenue. New York.
Take a look at the Centro collection of Mario Cesar Romero here.
Mario César Romero, 78, Art Historian of East Harlem, Dies
By David Gonzalez, April 24, 2020
Mario César Romero was the son of a house painter and seamstress from Puerto Rico who grew up in a housing project next to where Lincoln Center and its cultural institutions would one day rise. Though blessed with neither good health nor fortune, he always carried himself with a certain élan, holding forth on art history at the counter of a home-style Puerto Rican restaurant downstairs from his apartment in East Harlem.
“His life transcended the most astonishing challenges with dignity,” said Susana Torruella Leval, a friend who is on the Brooklyn Museum’s board of trustees. “He was truly a 19th century gentleman. I always thought of him as being in the court of some great king advising him on the arts.”
Mr. Romero, an art historian, curator, consultant and lecturer, died on April 17 in Manhattan of complications of the coronavirus, his sister, Migdalia Torres, said. He was 78 and had spent the last decade living in an assisted-living center until this summer, when health problems resulted in his entering palliative care.
Mr. Romero was a familiar sight in East Harlem, where he lived in an art-filled apartment on East 106th Street off Third Avenue. Educated in Catholic schools, he graduated from Fordham University with a degree in art history and also studied at the University of Puerto Rico.
As East Harlem’s borough-appointed official historian, he led walking tours and held forth on the artists who made the neighborhood home, including the pioneering 20th century portraitist Alice Neel and the street artist James de la Vega.
“He talked about art in East Harlem in the larger context of art history,” said Warren James, an architect and friend. “By his lens, by placing them in the larger context, he could see and understand the significance of someone like de la Vega along the lines of Keith Haring.”
Ms. Torruella Leval met Mr. Romero in 1970, when both were art history graduate students, a rarity, she said, for Puerto Ricans like them whose interests went beyond the European canon. When she was named director of El Museo del Barrio in 1990, she hired him as a consultant.
Among his lasting contributions to his beloved Barrio are the costumes he made for El Museo’s annual Three Kings Day parade. Like him, the costumes were elegant and with touches of all the cultural traditions of Puerto Rico.
“He saw so many dimensions at once,” Ms. Torruella Leval said. “Because he had exquisite taste, the fabric and the sewing, which he probably did himself, were extraordinary.”
Maybe he was fated to do this. After all, he was born on Three Kings Day.
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