Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Daniel Joseph Martinez, I Want to Go to Detroit; Cheerleaders CHEER @Preston

JTF (just the facts): A total of 28 black and white photographs, framed in bond wood and unmatted or framed in white and mounted, and hung against white walls in the divided gallery space. The images in the show were taken in 1978 and 1979. The 13 prints in the front gallery area are modern light jet prints, each sized 40x29, in editions of 3+1AP. The 15 prints in the back gallery area are vintage gelatin silver prints, each sized 16x19; these prints are unique. (Installation shots at right.)

Comments/Context: Looking at Daniel Joseph Martinez' photographs in this show is a little like traveling back in time to the Southern California of the late 1970s. But while these images are rich in details and atmosphere from that period, this smart pairing of two complementary projects (male body builders and female beauty pageant contestants) opens up a complex conversation about the extremes of human body image that continues today.
Martinez' body builders have been captured just off stage before a competition. They stand flash lit against a simple white backdrop (almost Avedon style), strutting and posing, but doing so with a bit more relaxed naturalness than they might exhibit in the heat of battle. Exaggerated muscular bodies ripple in the bright light, their curves accented by a sheen of oil. Obvious pride mixes with oversized freakishness in an over-the-top display of survival of the fittest strength taken to the limits of plausibility. There is something both impressive and sadly desperate about the life these pictures depict.
Martinez' backstage photographs of California beauty pageants are more candid and less centered. Young women with sashes (Apple Valley, Barstow, Santa Barbara, South Coast) wear sparkly evening gowns, swimsuits, and tiaras, complemented by wavy blond Farrah Fawcett hair, feathers, and chunky heels; mothers hover on the fringes. Many of the moments have a deer in the headlights feel, the flash pulling a contestant's vulnerable frown or unguarded glower into high contrast relief, with creepy grinning men never far from view. The sense that it is all a stage managed production comes through clearly; this is a show and not everyone is entirely keen to play along with the constant illusion of perfection.
Both bodies of work push hard on the underlying societal why of such behavior, both on the level of the individual and in the broader cultural context. They combine a documentary process with a conceptual overlay, capturing the genuine effort and the subtle comedy of these unnatural bodies and situations. While the scenes may seem plucked from times long gone, the underlying ideas are remarkably fresh and vibrant. Decades later, we're still modifying our bodies, in ever more extreme ways, and Martinez' 1970s critique still hits home.
Collector's POV: The works in the show are priced as follows. The 40x29 body builder prints are $7000 each. The 16x19 beauty pageant images are being sold as a single set of 15, priced at $120000. Martinez' work has very little secondary market history, so gallery retail likely remains the best option for those collectors interested in following up.

Rating: * (one star) GOOD (rating system described here)
Transit Hub:
  • Features/Reviews: Art in America (here), Huffington Post (here)
Through October 28th
301 Broome Street
New York, NY 10002

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