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COVER STORY: Evocative Creations

Artist Martine Gutierrez uses her latest exhibit to deconstruct social norms.

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Martine Gutierrez, Demons, Tlazoteotl ‘Eater of Filth,’ p92 from Indigenous Woman, 2018. (c) Martine Gutierrez; Courtesy of the artist and RYAN LEE Gallery, New York.

Artist Martine Gutierrez has what some might call Peter Pan syndrome. “I wanted to stay a kid forever,” she admits. “I never planned on growing up.” 

But grow up she did, and the art world became a better place because of her work.

Gutierrez, 32, is a graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design who currently lives and works in Brooklyn. As an influential and controversial performance artist who works in a variety of experimental media, she often serves as her own subject and muse—all in the name of “documenting her personal metamorphosis into various imagined roles.”

Houstonians can take in Gutierrez’ latest exhibit Martine Gutierrez: Radiant Cut at the UH Blaffer Art Museum through October 24. The exhibit is somewhat of a micro-survey of the artist’s work, in which she explores both personal and collective identities. As a nonbinary transgender woman, she is very interested in the fluidity of relationships and the role that gender plays within them.

Martine Gutierrez, Real Doll, Raquel 4, 2013. (c) Martine Gutierrez; Courtesy of the artist and RYAN LEE Gallery, New York.

Utilizing mannequins as her counterparts, she seeks to explore “the diverse narratives of intimacy.” There is an interchange between her life-sized backdrops and props that inspires a dialogue about reality. The tension and conflict all come from the interplay between the art and the viewer. This exchange invites a discourse “that requires the viewer to question his/her/their own perceptions of sex, gender, and social groups,” she explains.

Gutierrez’ career began with a series in which mannequins and sex dolls were positioned as idealized partners and surrogates, “circulating in an uncanny space of mimicry, desire, and plastic intimacy.” That series informed her subsequent work and infused it with a sense of curiosity and depth that goes beyond what the viewer sees at first glance.

The September 2021 issue of OutSmart magazine

Viewers who take the time to absorb her work will leave changed. The art is enthralling, dangerously evocative, and revealing in important and powerful ways. Gutierrez poses both the questions and the answers, but neither can be revealed without viewer engagement. She is an artist who simply serves as a conduit for the art, and she tries not to define it. “Defining anything seems to put an end to its possibility,” she says.

Her work does indeed defy easy definitions. It is powerful, raw, and unflinching—denying viewers any opportunity for excuses. “But what about?…” “But not all…” “But isn’t it possible?…” Such doubts are batted away before there is even a chance for baseless criticism. What she sees and what she believes cannot be ignored.

Gutierrez’ other recent exhibitions include Disturbing Innocence at the FLAG Art Foundation, About Face: Self-Portraiture in Contemporary Art at Dartmouth College’s Hood Museum of Art (where her work also resides in the permanent collection), and hummannequin, a solo exhibition at the Anna Marra Contemporanea gallery in Rome.

Martine Gutierrez, Body En Thrall, p113 from Indigenous Woman, 2018. (c) Martine Gutierrez; Courtesy of the artist and RYAN LEE Gallery, New York.

In 2016, Gutierrez showed in two solo exhibitions: True Story at Boston University, and WE&THEM&ME at the Contemporary Art Museum in Raleigh, North Carolina. Her work was also featured on a public billboard campaign throughout New York City while she was in residence at the International Studio & Curatorial Program (ISCP) in Brooklyn. 

A project entitled Martine Jeans was created in collaboration with the New York Community Trust, the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, and the New York State Council on the Arts.

Gutierrez is also a published musician and producer. Her first unreleased single, “Hands Up,” was selected by Saint Laurent Paris for their Cruise Collection 2012 video editorial. Her music has been featured by other fashion houses as well, including Christian Dior and Acne Studios.

Martine Gutierrez, Plastics, Dahlia, 2020. (c) Martine Gutierrez; Courtesy of the artist and RYAN LEE Gallery, New York.

Her photos, performances, and videos all serve to deconstruct “glittery conventions of fashion, beauty, advertising, and glamour.” She also explores how “sexuality and style are constructed and propagated in popular mediafrom clothing lines and cosmetics to perfume, haute couture, and music videos.”

Gutierrez also wants to compel a reinvention of gender, race, and identity “by translating her Mayan heritage and Guatemalan-American ethnicity into an evocative platform to (re)discover, embellish, and amplify bodies ‘outside of the binary.’” She finds inspiration in ancient Aztec deities that embody historical models of duality and gender fluidity. 

Her most ambitious project to date is the 128-page glossy magazine called Indigenous Woman, in which a kaleidoscopic inventory of fashion-model personas blooms not like flowers, but like weeds that are too pretty to poison. For that project, she assumed the roles of model, stylist, photographer, art director, advertiser, writer, and editor-in-chief. In a manner reminiscent of Andy Warhol’s Interview magazine, Gutierrez’ Indigenous Woman combines a fictional high-fashion marketing campaign with transgressive satire and swelling post-colonial confrontation. 

Martine Gutierrez, Neo-Indeo, Tzutujil Perezoso, p33 from Indigenous Woman, 2018. (c) Martine Gutierrez; Courtesy of the artist and RYAN LEE Gallery, New York.

Her Radiant Cut exhibit at the Blaffer Art Museum looks unflinchingly at self-identity and the social constructs that bind us. The show is equal parts stark, revelatory, and revolutionary. It’s a powerful thing to have your preconceived notions shattered by an artist’s truth-telling. Guttierrez tells the truth.

In a world that seems to be on fire and gathering speed at every turn, art may be the one thing that can save us. “Artists have been cultural influencers since the beginning,” she emphasizes. “Technique and aesthetic are opinions of the venue—a venue where nothing is truly forbidden—a cradle of spectacle, scandal, and introspection. Fashion magazines, the music industry, and Hollywood all take from art, because ‘the mainstream’ is pre-chewed. It’s the constant update of what was previously taboo.”

Gutierrez concludes with a specific piece of advice that couldn’t be any simpler—and more revolutionary. “Try everything once. Everything.”

What: Martine Gutierrez: Radiant Cut
When: Through October 24
Where: Blaffer Art Museum at the University of Houston, 4173 Elgin Street
Info: blafferartmuseum.org/martine-gutierrez

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Jenny Block

Jenny Block is a frequent contributor to a number of high-profile publications from New York Times to Huffington Post to Playboy and is the author of four books, including “Be That Unicorn: Find your Magic. Live your Truth. Share your Shine." She has appeared on a variety of television and radio programs from Nightline to BBC Radio to Great Day Houston and has performed and spoken at bookstores, events, conferences, and resorts in the US and Mexico, as well as on Holland America Cruise ships.
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