Martin Gutierrez


Whether manipulated in post-production or created within a false reality, photography has the ability to simultaneously pose questions and hide truths, and New York-based multi-media artist Martín Gutierrez subtly takes these opportunities to the extreme.

Born in Berkley and raised in Oakland, California, before moving with his mother to rural Vermont in the sixth grade, Gutierrez has dressed up, painted, and made home movies since early childhood. Now, the Rhode Island School of Design-graduate’s second solo show at Ryan Lee Gallery in Chelsea is on view, exploring and posing questions about gender, sexuality, and self-identity.

Hanging throughout the gallery are two series of self-portraits, one black-and-white and another vibrantly colored, featuring  Gutierrez posing with a collection of mannequins. At first glance, each black-and-white image appears to feature two living people in a highly extravagant setting—ascending the grand staircase of an ornate mansion, standing within a luxurious garden landscape—but upon closer inspection, it becomes clear that the images are presenting an exaggerated fantasy. In the color images, Guiterrez stands amongst various groups of stereotyped women—schoolgirls, luau dancers—but really, these women, like in the black-and-white series, are inanimate. In addition to the photographs, the exhibition, “Martín Gutierrez: Can She Hear You,” also includes an installation of disassembled mannequins, cartoonish paintings, and music videos, all of which Gutierrez produced.

“I don’t see them all as separate things,” Gutierrez says in regard to the many mediums. “There’s not really an alternative. I don’t know how else I would make this image if I wasn’t doing all of these jobs.”

This image is one that confuses gender and one that consistently evolves. More than just fine art, the artist also produces and performs music under the name Martine, and some songs have even been used in commercial collaborations with fashion brands like Saint Laurent, Dior, and Acne.

Here, we are exclusively streaming the video for “Head 2 Toe” from Gutierrez’s new show.

NAME: Martín Gutierrez

BASED: Brooklyn, New York

AGE: 26

YOUNG BEGINNINGS: From a very young age I was sporadically putting on wigs and costumes and dancing around the house to music. At that age, we don’t have a dialogue for why, it was just that I had to. I didn’t know that making myself happy in that way was a career choice until I was in high school and I did a summer program called The Governance Institute. The program was about developing your skill set, but really everyone that was there was so honestly motivated. I was like, “These are my people, I need to do this for the rest of my life, this is what college should be too!” And then realizing, “There are art schools! You can do this!” [laughs]

FIRST PIECE OF ART: My mother still has this terrible, and amazing, finger painted watercolor that I made that’s a self-portrait. It’s just this huge orb with two dots inside and then these stick-like arms and legs coming out. There’s no body; it’s a face with hands and arms and feet and legs. I’m really dyslexic, so I actually used to write backwards when I was younger. All of my works, they say “Mom,” ’cause that’s the same either way, and then they say “Nitram,” because I signed my name backwards on everything.

But I also obtained a video camera pretty early on and would make videos. I would make my babysitters star in them and I would always have supporting roles, obviously. I think it was called “The Wizard And Something Else,” which I would call my first art piece. I found [it] recently on VHS…there’s this loose moral about being nice and when you’re nice, better things happen to you. [laughs] My babysitter Erin gets this curse put on her—whatever she sees in the mirror is actually her inner beauty, not her exterior beauty. So every time she looks in mirror I had this really gross Halloween mask I’d put on her. It was pimply and gooey.

GENDER IDENTITY: I think these themes [of gender and sexuality] are intrinsic to me as an individual, partly in just figuring myself out as a young adult. Always kind of not fitting into a gender binary has made these issues that I’ve had to wrestle with, but I don’t think I go out of my way to talk about them. I feel like the experience [of moving from California to Vermont] paused my identity as a person for a prolonged amount of time. I didn’t identify as anything; I think partly because everyone kept asking, “Are you this? Are you that?” and my response, to protect myself, was to be like, “I’m a little bit of everything.” I wanted to feel like there was a choice, because I believe there is one.

HIM OR HER: I refer to myself as Martín, which I always have. I accept that in words there’s a masculine and a feminine, and in physicality people see a masculine and a feminine as well. I, myself, can’t control that. [pauses] Some of my friends refer to me as “her,” and some of them refer to me as “him.” It’s just how long I’ve known them and how they perceived me when I met them, which is really interesting. I’m almost more interested in that than telling someone how they should refer to me. Right now, I’m in a gleeful place of not settling on anything. I’m being water right now; I’m just trying to cover up the surface. Maybe I’ll become ice later on and it will feel like I don’t need to move around as much.

MARTÍN WITH AN E…is definitely me hyper sexualized. I see Martine, that musical world, as this alternative path that my life could very easily be, based on the neighborhood I grew up in in Oakland. It wasn’t very big, we had girls prostituting themselves, and there still are, even though the neighborhood is becoming gentrified. It’s a Latino ghetto and my dad and my sister and her children still live there. I used to find it really glamorous in a weird way, this unattainable nightlife that I would see and really want to be a part of. Even though it seemed dangerous, it also seemed really alluring and sexy.  

LETTING OTHERS IN: I feel like I’m actually somewhat self-conscious and it’s harder for me to be vulnerable around other people. That’s part of why I work alone, because no one is watching me and I’m really choosing the moments I let other people see. For this show, I’ve been doing more collaborations and loosening my reign in terms of what I’m willing to let other people do. I feel like it’s been really healthy for me to be able to sit back and let someone else execute an aspect of a project and trust them. If anything, I’ve realized I never thought of myself as a perfectionist beforehand, but I might be. [laughs]

A RARE COLLECTION: My first mannequin was given to me in high school. I think I got a mannequin instead of an iPod, but it was really without a purpose. People always knew I loved dolls, so they would be gifts, or I always look at thrift stores and clothing stores, and ask about their mannequins. I have six now, but they can be expensive, so it’s taken a while. I’m also very picky—I won’t take any girl, she needs to have the right qualities to be one of my girls. It’s very much about that they, for me, are evoking something and that their pose can allude to movement—a posture that is still, but on purpose. It’s not just this thing that you look at and translates as a dead doll.

FOR THE LOVE OF FILM: All of my work is very narrative based and I think it’s partly because of my love of film. The Fifth Element is one of my all time favorites, since I was young. I have a very intense relationship with the James Bond saga, 007 and Diamonds Are Forever. My father, I think he really wanted to pump me up with some testosterone. He loved action movies, and I also love action movies, but he would sit me in front of the television and we would just watch James Bond. I think in his mind, it was somehow like, “Oh yeah, Martín is going to like guns and handle women in this misogynist way,” but all it did was solidify that I am the evil heroin woman. [laughs] The only person I ever really identified with in the film was the mysterious love interest of James Bond, and she usually ended up being his demise.

UNANSWERED QUESTIONS: What’s important to me is that people use their brains. I am not interested in giving answers to people; I would much rather someone have to process it, and part of that is the learning that happens in someone projecting their own perceptions onto something. It’s going to teach that person so much more about how they view gender and how they view sex, what turns them on. It’s going to be so much more meaningful than approaching an image and being told, “This is a mannequin; that’s a person; this is a set, not a real forest.” Maybe they don’t perceive that anything is not what it seems, and that in itself is interesting to me, that they’re willing to accept it even though there’s definitely aspects of the reality within the image that don’t make any sense.