Born 1957 in Los Angeles, California; lives in Los Angeles, California
Fifteen years after his indelible first appearance in the Whitney Biennial in 1993, Daniel Joseph Martinez continues to create work that unapologetically probes uncomfortable issues of personal and collective identity, seeking out threadbare spots in the fabric of conventional wisdom. A strategic provocateur with a keen intelligence and a wicked sense of humor, Martinez deploys the full range of available media in his practice, having used at various times (and in various combinations) text, image, sculpture, video, and performance to construct his uniquely tough-minded brand of aesthetic inquiry.
The artist’s works over the last few years vividly demonstrate both his methods and fascinations. The House America Built (2004), for example, staged an improbable, mordant collision between Unabomber Ted Kaczynski and design maven Martha Stewart (with an added touch of Gordon Matta-Clark’s anarchitecture), in the form of a wooden cabin that filled the space at his New York gallery, The Project. Painted in deliberately tasteful Stewartesque pastels, the looming structure—riven from bottom to top by a widening slice evoking Matta-Clark’s famous house cut, Splitting, of 1974—was in fact a reimagining of the Montana dwelling where Kaczynski penned his infamous manifesto.
If House looks outward to test whether a spiffy new coat of commerce might camouflage the fractured social architecture of the American democratic landscape, Martinez’s ongoing project featuring his own body as a site of contention and disturbance brings questions about appearance and reality into strikingly personal focus. Commencing with a series of self-portrait photographs from 2000, the artist began opening himself up to viewers literally, using sophisticated makeup techniques to produce startling images such as the trio that constitute More Human Than Human, Self-Portrait #9, Fifth Attempt to Clone Mental Disorder or How One Philosophizes with a Hammer in which Martinez appears to reach inside his stomach and draw out his bloody entrails. A recent series of animatronic selfportraits— including Call Me Ishmael, The Fully Enlightened Earth Radiates Disaster Triumphant, an installation for the Official United States Pavilion of the 2006 Cairo Biennial in which a robot version of the artist convulsed in a paroxysmal seizure whenever viewers came near—constitutes an elaboration of Martinez’s abiding interest in interrogating both artistic transparency and audience complicity.
Complicity is also a watchword for his newest work, Divine Violence, 2007— first shown late last year at The Project in New York. The work takes its name from Walter Benjamin’s coinage for a form of violence that functions as pure means, with knowable ends. The installation of 125 panels, painted in automotive goldflake and each bearing the name of an organization around the world attempting to affect politics through violent means, is part of a larger ongoing project whose open-ended mix of theory, politics, and research is representative of Martinez’s entire practice. JEFFREY KASTNER
Daniel Joseph Martinez, Divine Violence, 2007 (installation view, The Project, New York, 2007). Automotive paint on wood panels, 125 parts, 24 x 36 in. (61 x 91.4 cm) each, overall dimensions variable. Collection of the artist