Gabriel Martinez

Blaffer Art Museum, University of Houston
120 Fine Arts Building
October 28, 2017–January 27, 2018

View of “Gabriel Martinez: Everything Turns Away Quite Leisurely,” 2018. From left: American Bond, 2017; Wildcat Strike, 2017.

In Gabriel Martinez’s first solo museum exhibition, a polished veneer and meticulous structuring allow his beautiful objects to pass as Minimalist art––yet a deeper examination reveals biting commentary and sharp sociopolitical analyses of contemporary American urbanism.

The artist’s practice is grounded in interventions he undertook on city streets over the past fifteen years. In one, Martinez cleared a delimited area of all paper trash and then re-created the refuse in white card stock in his studio, eventually returning the fabricated versions to the same location; in Ghost Trash, 2005–18, similar white paper objects litter the floor of the gallery. For another project begun in 2005, he arranged glass shards from car wrecks into squares at the various accident sites; in The Long Poem of Walking, 2017, these shards have been organized into a bar-graph-like grid across the floor. This grid format appears in other pieces too, such as the hand-sewn quilt Differential, 2017, constructed using mechanic’s rags from his stepfather’s gas station.

Transpositions and re-creations are recurrent strategies for Martinez, as in American Bond, 2017, for which a discarded Pullman brick was pulverized to a powder and applied to a stretched canvas without fixative. Untitled (Eisenhower Interstate System), 2017, features a series of three polished-steel mirrors in the shape of abstracted highway signs that reference the federal government’s role in moving development away from easily targeted dense central cities during the Cold War. The artist creates meaning from his attention to materials, navigating weighty issues of urban planning, decay, and dispossession with a light yet conceptually rigorous touch.

— John Pluecker