3 June – 9 July 2021
Josh Lilley is pleased to present Passing, the first solo exhibition in the UK for Martine Gutierrez (b. 1989, Berkeley, CA). Comprising key works from the artist’s celebrated Indigenous Woman project and the debut of her new Plastics series, Passing acts as both a recent survey and a look ahead for an important new voice in American art.
Passing is the ability to be mistaken for somebody else, to publicly conceal by omission — whether the measure of melanin, physique of the body, slant of the eye or flare of the nose. Passing is a measure against ‘self’ and public perception. Passing can be a compulsion, a hustle, a pastime, a prosecution, an acceptance, or simply one’s destiny. Passing can be about assimilation, and passing can be about escape. Passing is the title of this exhibition, Gutierrez’s first in the UK.
Gutierrez’s new Plastics series presents archetypal bombshells — bright-skinned, red-lipped blondes — with their visages squashed behind plastic wrap. The artist holds the transparent film tightly behind her head, capturing the image with one hand and no breath, against the clock. The lipstick starts to ghost on the tacky surface, the wig flattens, the iris of the eyes disconnects as the contact lenses start to roll out of register. The skin is fresh and dewy under its plastic seal, tight and plump like freckled glass campaigning the next great beauty serum. The natural ideal of any Bella influencer, frozen and wrinkle-free.
The Plastics arrest the senses, flickering between sumptuous glamour and inescapable intimations of gendered violence and dehumanization. They are, per the stakes established by Andrea Dworkin or Catharine MacKinnon, problematic images, but in the baldness of their confrontation lies a bracing, strongly stated fact. Feminism and femininity are not static, but constantly evolving, defined by the people of today. Blondeness, Gutierrez recently explained to Interview magazine, is “a place to stay for anyone.” Its benefits are evergreen, and its pitfalls are marked by every Marilyn who didn’t make it. Gutierrez’s blondes are suffocating, but maybe they’ll pierce through the plastic, or fuse with it. Violence is not always violation if you know what you’re getting into; it’s something else. The Plastics exist in a space of fantasy, after all.
Indigenous Woman — an anthology of the artist’s self-portraiture uncannily packaged as a glossy fashion magazine that has travelled the world over the past three years, most prominently at the 2019 Venice Biennale — addresses multiple further possibilities of who and what the artist might be. In seamless editorial and ads, Gutierrez takes on the buttery conventional body worship of Herb Ritts in Body en Thrall, or the coming-of-age manic pixie experimentation of an othered teenager in Queer Rage, or the almost ethnographic study of contemporary indigeneity in Neo-Indeo, or Shiseido-esque superdoll flawlessness in an ad for Covert Girl cosmetics, or the fearsome power of towering, architecturally improbable hair worthy of the Bronner Brothers Beauty Show in Demons. Gutierrez sells each version of herself with the same conviction, and she welcomes the idea that she is all of them equally.
It is important to point out that Gutierrez’s art is unbound. This is a feat and a fact. The artist grew up in an era following the foundational, monolithic struggles of the modern LGBT+ movement. The long journey for equality and protection under the law or the murderous discrimination of the AIDS epidemic are now, to younger people, queer history. The queer present, for many millennials and the generations that follow them, is a time of collective discovery performed not through opposition but through unbridled, unimpeded creation. It is not a time of battles on fixed terms. Gutierrez’s freedom is not static, but constantly evolving, defined by the people of today.
Douglas Crimp called his 1977 exhibition Pictures because of “the ambiguities it sustains.” He sought to promote the life of images outside the museum, the universe of picture-making formed in the world by committee, by attrition, by accident and on TV. Pictures as a place where culture takes place. It is no great stretch to consider Gutierrez as part of a new Pictures Generation, a maker of today who creates images rather than answers in pursuit of an understanding of self that reflects the moment we’re at. “This is a quest for identity,” she explains. “Of my own specifically, yes, but by digging my pretty, painted nails deeply into the dirt of my own image I am also probing the depths for some understanding of identity as a social construction.” Perhaps passing is neither assimilation nor escape, neither blending into culture nor abandoning it, but a passing through — a nimble, fluid, modern existence.
Martine Gutierrez is a graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design, Providence, RI. She has been the subject of recent solo museum exhibitions at the Australian Centre for Photography (2020) and the Museum of Modern Art Fort Worth (2019), and has appeared in recent institutional contexts including the Biennale di Venezia, Venice; Hayward Gallery, London; Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, CT (2019); and the New Museum, New York (2018). 2021 exhibitions include the Blaffer Art Museum, University of Houston; the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; and a major commission for the Public Art Fund, New York. The artist lives and works in Brooklyn.