How Martine Gutierrez transformed into Cleopatra, Mulan, and other historical heroines for a public art project in bus shelters in the United States

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Artist Martine Gutierrez was just a locked door from Madonna – the icon she’d love to photograph more than anyone – as the Queen of Pop performed for a pride celebration at Manhattan’s Boom Boom club Room. Gutierrez had a ticket, but was late to photograph a shoot for Maintenance magazine. When finally she arrived carrying a bouquet of roses, she told the ruthless bouncer that she needed to give the flowers to Madonna. The bouncer, however, was too preoccupied with all the frantic fans banging, pulling hair, and clawing to reach their queen,

Gutierrez and his friends gave up and took refuge on the nearby piers. “Instead, we took the roses out of the Hudson River and made wishes on what we want from New York,” she told Artnet News. The compromise helped the artist to feel as if she had met her icon. “Getting to know Madonna in person someday,” if Gutierrez could ever photograph her, “would shatter my ideal for who she is, and that would be healthy for me,” she said. Gutierrez has learned that capturing iconic characters in the flesh is often less interesting than conquering their mythology from within.

The elegant and mysterious photographs of the multifaceted artist, of which she is both the subject and the photographer, have recently made featured appearances at the Venice Biennale, the Ljubljana Graphic Arts Biennale, the Hayward Gallery London and the Australian Center. for Photography.

Now, “Anti-Icon, “ Gutierrez’s new multi-city exhibition in the streets of New York, Chicago and Boston transfers his play between gaze and muse into the public domain. For a series of photographs bordering 300 bus shelters, organized by the Public Art Fund, the artist from Brooklyn reconstructs 10 historical or mythological female icons.

Martine Gutiérrez, Cleopatra (2021). Courtesy of the artist.

“We know an icon like Madonna in all her forms, but no one thinks of Aphrodite or Cleopatra as a child or an elderly person,” Gutierrez said. “Once it’s all burned down, we’ll always come back to mythology because we need it to make sense of our lives – that annotation of storytelling is bigger than the internet.”

Gutierrez, who is 32, shot her renditions of Cleopatra, Mulan, Queen of Sheba, Atargatis, Gabriel, Aphrodite, Lady Godiva, Helen of Troy, Queen Elizabeth I and Judith last summer at her mother’s house in northern L New York State. There had been a drought that season, undermining the vitality of the usually lush landscape in a way that mirrored the effect of the pandemic on Gutierrez’s own creative mind. But after looking for inspiration in mythology, she realized that she too could challenge the limits of her surroundings. The empty swimming pool, where she had previously moved a mattress to create her own private bedroom, became her studio, while the materials she found around the house turned into her accessories. Then she clicked on the timer.

Gutierrez initially envisioned the 10 icons wearing garish costumes; one idea was even to create a series of fake perfume advertisements for a fictitious perfume called Anti-Icon. “But it was wrong to do something decorated during times of scarcity,” she said. Instead, tarp cuts became Helen’s dress, inspired by 1960s Italy, and she hides her sultry expression in the photo behind a veil of birdnet. Meanwhile, the peonies Aphrodite catches to hide her breasts come from a surplus from Gutierrez’s mother’s garden. Mulan’s body shield is made of plaster, while gauze, mud, sticks, trash bags, cardboard, and zippers replace Elizabeth’s crown, Gabriel’s wings, and other markers. of the female divinity.

Martine Gutierrez, (2021), Boston. Courtesy of the artist and RYAN LEE Gallery.

When we met in downtown Brooklyn last month to visit some of the images of the shelters, which appear in JCDecaux advertising spaces, Gutierrez donned a pair of Grave robber– shorts, a short shirt and earthy sandals. “Don’t I look like Lara Croft today?” ” she asked.

Seeing his Aphrodite in a Clinton Hill bus shelter, Gutierrez shouted, “Oh my god, she’s gorgeous!”

The woman in the photo and the artist standing next to her looked very different, I noted. Gutierrez agreed, “It’s not me in there.”

The awe-inspiring femininity of the trans body in the image contrasted sharply with the advertisement for Clint Eastwood’s new western crying macho at the opposite end of the shelter, this is why tThe business context for this work is so appropriate. Beyond their brilliance, the meticulously constructed images deconstruct female sexuality and challenge the male gaze by default, while entering a space reserved for commercial beauty. For Martinez, the attire of fame is also a personal pain: “When I was younger I thought if I was famous people would finally accept me,” she said.

Born to a Guatemalan father and a white American mother in California, Gutierrez has gradually shifted to a female identity over the years. Her practice has continually reflected this self-construction both as a woman and as an artist through works that combine her creative DIY spirit with an innate need for self-discovery. In Girlfriends (2014), his own image blends into frames with dummies that look alike; for Native woman (2018), she stars in a 124-page fictional fashion magazine about Indigenous identity and dress. The polished veneers of the images disguise the found objects and the unconventional backgrounds within them as they orchestrate illusions of both fact and fiction.

“There’s nothing you see that isn’t true, as long as that’s what you want to see,” Gutierrez said.

The artist considers the exhibition of curator Ralph Rugoff for the Venice Biennale 2019 as a turning point in his career. It was also a time when she felt physically beautiful. Italians kept calling her Monica Bellucci, whose style in the 2000 drama Malena ended up becoming an inspiration to her Helen. “Being a beautiful woman cuts you off in wealth and class – you may be broke, but people will be careful,” she said. “Men think I am there for them, and becoming an object is a feeling of corruption. ”

Martine Gutiérrez, Godiva (2021). Courtesy of the artist.

Beauty, as she learned by doing “Anti-Icon, can also be triggering. The public presence of the photographs forced her to take each image with her body parts strategically covered. “They’re still nudes, but different types,” Gutierrez said. She avoids using the word “censorship”, preferring to “conceal” or “reveal” for a little more mystery.

“If Madonna had a penis, she would definitely show it to everyone,” she said with a laugh. (The queen of pop is infamous Sex 1992 book was in the artist’s mood board for the project.)

Posing for a man’s lens, however, is an experience Gutierrez eschews. “I would criticize myself to a degree of self-intimidation,” she said. On the other hand, Gutierrez’s own relationship with the use of the camera is still ongoing. She positions her body and her expressions in a suggestive way, somewhere between performance and acting.

“I’m not yet self-aware enough to control my expressions,” the artist said. The experience has taught her to try to forget the goal and the timer, and she examines the results to find the moments of authenticity.

This month, another vision of Gutierrez will appear in public when the Whitney opens his commission of the artist’s work for its series of billboards in front of the High Line. This time, Gutierrez is pictured looking away from the lens, dressed in colorful clothing with native motifs and surrounded by collages of nature images. Like its other juxtapositions, the scene features a hyper-stylized version of what might pass for an advertisement – the billboard is perched above Manhattan’s chic Meatpacking District – as well as an overly performative presentation of a culture, presumably for the default white gaze.

“I developed a sense of empowerment and confidence with the security of not having to trade my qualifications for the sake of collection or relevance,” she said. “By traveling the world so intuitively, I want to be able to do something only on my own terms. ”

“Martine Gutierrez: Anti-Icon” is on view until November 21, 2021.

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