A cast of goddesses, queens, and other powerful women from across history and mythology lands at 300 bus stops in New York, Chicago, and Boston. 10 colossal photographic representations of female idols evoked by a single name – Cleopatra, Aphrodite, Godiva, Sheba – gracefully exposed and gracefully exposed in the space of luxury perfume and fashion ads. What exactly are they selling?
Martine Gutierrez, the shapeshifting artist and performer who plays all roles, is behind “ANTI-ICON”, a project of the public art fund. “These are all characters known for their beauty, endurance and ability to overcome obstacles,” said Katerina Stathopoulou, curator of the show, of the star lineup, which will run from August 25 to November 21 Syrian deity Atargatis, Queen Elizabeth I, the angel Gabriel, the warrior Mulan, Helen of Troy and Judith (famous for the beheading of Holofernes), reinterpreted by Gutierrez, who has seen these figures reproduced countless times and tests whether they “allow” “is” to represent them.
“My first question was, ‘Am I a woman? What does it mean to be a woman? ‘”Said Gutierrez, who identifies as a non-binary trans woman. “It’s probably something I’ll never stop wondering.”
The 32-year-old artist, who lives in Brooklyn, has always checked her image in front of and behind the camera; as a model, costume and set designer, make-up artist and director, she questions ideas about gender, ethnicity and identity constructions personally and collectively. Known for her lavish photographs and videos in which she presents a chameleon-like array of stereotypes from glossy magazines, Hollywood and the music industry, the artist takes on the challenge of staging personalities that transcend time and culture.
Gutierrez uses reduced body language (improved through years of dance studies), strategically draped scarves and wigs from a black garbage bag, flower moss or party streamers that she found in her mother’s house in New York State (she photographed the pictures in an abandoned swimming pool).
Which persona would show up for an interview at the Ryan Lee gallery in Chelsea representing them was a mystery. Tall and sleek in a white tank top and jeans, no makeup with long dark hair, Gutierrez could have passed for America’s Next Top Model (a show she tried to audition for once). “I feel that this is my strength,” she said. “I find confusion delicious.”
Berkeley-born Gutierrez described growing up as a “very feminine boy” in a multiracial family – her father from Guatemala, her mother from the United States. “I’ve always moved around the world in a very gender-specific way,” said Gutierrez. As a child, she was obsessed with Barbies, especially princess dolls – Pocahontas, Jasmine, Ariel. Her mother, an architect, helped her build a life-size version of the popular three-foot My Size Barbie, which they called My Size Martine.
“I was a Disney queen,” Gutierrez said. “Eliminating this brainwashing has been a priority, Disney’s inherent American dream that there is always more to be had.”
Gutierrez studied fashion magazines, popular culture, music videos, films from an early age. Jeff Lee, co-founder of the Ryan Lee Gallery, said, “She became so fluent in that language, exploring ideas of self, gender, and identity through all of these mechanisms of fantasy and storytelling.” Lee was appointed through her professor at the Rhode Island School of Design, where she received her BFA in 2012, introduced in Gutierrez ‘job at reception).
In the early 2014 series, Girl Friends and Line Up, Gutierrez created and photographed luxurious scenes with mannequins as archetypes of beauty, changing their looks and hers to reflect themselves in intimate hyper-feminine groupings . The illusions are so seamless that it is easy to confuse what is “real” and what is artificial.
“When I was in the gallery next to my work, the viewers didn’t realize that I was the girl in the picture,” said Gutierrez, who was using masculine pronouns at the time. She said it was her first realization that she wanted to make a transition and be seen by the world as a woman.
Works from these series can be seen until October 24 in an overview exhibition at the Blaffer Art Museum of the University of Houston entitled “Martine Gutierrez: Radiant Cut”. It also contains images from her project “Indigenous Woman” from 2018, a 124-page art publication that appropriated the large format of “Interview” magazine in a provocation, “the celebration of Mayan Indian heritage, the navigation of contemporary indigenousness and the constantly evolving self-image ”, as she wrote in a note from the editor. As a model, photographer, advertiser and editor-in-chief, she brought a whole range of tropes to life – sports costumes from Guatemala in high-fashion spreads, spoofing beauty products in advertorials, played roles from Latina maids to trophy women in a psychosexual saga about whites ” Discovery “of the indigenous woman by the man.
“Martine has an incredible understanding of all the attributes of the cliché and how to represent and twist it,” said Ralph Rugoff, director of London’s Haywood Gallery, who showed prints of “Indigenous Woman” at the 58th International Art Exhibition he organized in 2019 at the Venice Biennale. Compared to Cindy Sherman, a pioneer in embodying female stereotypes in setup photos, Rugoff said that as a transgender person with a mixed ethnic background, Gutierrez brings different concerns to the equation.
“Martine’s work challenges you to give up your belief in these categories of gender and race and see identity as something that is potentially much more open,” said Rugoff.
Gutierrez recognizes an undeniable closeness to Sherman’s work and also refers to the examples of Britney Spears, Frida Kahlo and Christina Aguilera.
The Venice Biennale brought Gutierrez to a much larger stage. Lee, her gallery owner, has sold works to institutions such as the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, and the Smithsonian American Art Museum.
A selection from “Indigenous Woman” is now on view in Chicago at the Museum of Contemporary Photography until August 29th. Asha Iman Veal, a curatorial fellow who organized this show. “She doesn’t ask anyone’s permission to center, and she’s not afraid to take up the whole room.”
For the new work in “ANTI-ICON” Gutierrez relied heavily on poses in their incarnations. Aphrodite cautiously covers her nudity with her hands in a serpentine position that is reminiscent of Botticelli’s famous painting of the goddess of love. With cardboard wings and an arm stretching out a branch, Gabriel is reminiscent of the stylized profile of innumerable biblical images of the Annunciation (not to mention a pin-up girl).
Gutierrez channeled actress Monica Bellucci for her Helen of Troy, who started a war with her beauty. “It’s the most feminine thing I’ve ever seen in my life,” said Gutierrez and examined the picture in which she pulled a piece of garden net over her face. “I thought she was caught in the gift or power that must be sought.”
Is it important to Gutierrez that the viewer know she is a trans woman, given the very public placement of these images at bus stops and the exposure to a large audience? “Hmm, Martine licks her lips and thinks,” said the artist, who playfully adopted the tone of a celebrity interview as she distracted the question.
“I didn’t mean to hide in the costume,” she said finally. “I wanted to embody a character. If I could think of Cleopatra with a wire and a garbage bag, then that would be successful for me – for everyone. “
In a project for the Whitney in September, one block from the museum, a billboard above the Intermix women’s clothing store will feature Gutierrez in white lingerie on a plush pink shag rug as an army of midget-like blonde Barbie dolls traverse her body, pulled on her brown hair and unwound white threads that spell out the title “Supremacy”.
“This is the picture we are trapped in – small waist, peroxide hair, colored contact lenses,” said the artist.
It’s a comment on “how women have changed and changed themselves in ad campaigns and fashion – and being part of that from being a transgender woman,” said Marcela Guerrero, assistant curator at Whitney who runs the show. “There is always some level of self-criticism, but on your own terms. Martine is in charge. “