Weekly Update 2 – Equality Forum: Zoe Strauss and Gabe Martinez

This week’s Weekly includes the Equality Forum supplement with my feature on Gabe Martinez and Zoe Strauss, the two artists selected for the EF exhibitions at Sol Mednick Gallery and Gallery 1401, both in the Terra Bldg at UArts.

All That Jizz
Two gay artists investigate gender and wanking.

I can’t think of a more delicious pairing for a one-two punch of art than Zoe Strauss and Gabe Martinez. They create some of the most exciting work in Philadelphia—works of darkness, abject beauty and complexity so compelling that seeing them is like being pricked by a rose.

Strauss and Martinez—both gay and in committed long-term relationships—are photographers and installation artists. Their shows deal with issues of desire, flesh, gender and the human condition. Visual pleasure is both a subject and a product.

Zoe Strauss, middle, at the opening of Olafur Eliasson’s color immersion piece at Arcadia University, 2004. I don’t have a photo of the two artists together but I took this shot and the next and just love the green-ness.

Martinez pumps up the queer volume in his art, which explores gayness and gay stereotypes but always in ways that deal with broader issues like passion, love, death, trust and remorse. Strauss, who photographs people and places in down-and-out parts of her South Philadelphia neighborhood, circles around gayness in images of gender-ambiguous individuals.

Gabe Martinez, left, at Olafur Eliasson’s opening, 2004, at Arcadia University.

Strauss and Martinez are honored to be this year’s Equality Forum artists and—as they’re friends—thrilled to be paired in shows one floor apart in the UArts Media Department.

“I’m telling everyone I have a show with Gabe,” the bubbly Strauss says like it’s the coup of the century. Sweet, mischievous and generous, they talk about their works as if they’re each other’s agents.

Poster for Strauss's Under I-95 exhibit. NOTE: this year the event's on a SUNDAY.
Poster for Strauss’s Under I-95 exhibit. NOTE: this year the event’s on a SUNDAY.

“We’re both optimists,” says Martinez, partly explaining their affinity for each other. It’s not pie-in-the-sky optimism, but a feeling about the importance of producing, creating and provoking that comes from looking upward more than downward. Oh, and they both also love to be in the public eye.

The acclaim that comes with producing good work is an addictive part of the artistic process. Money from sales would be addictive too, but for these public artists, who work mostly in institutional and nonprofit settings, money comes primarily from grants and fellowships (including the Pew Fellowship, which Martinez received in 2001 and Strauss in 2006). It’s not enough to support a high-flying lifestyle, or much of any lifestyle at all. In fact, the money goes right back into the artwork.

“At the end of the month we’re eating Ramen noodles,” says Martinez. But with upcoming shows in commercial galleries, Martinez and Strauss are transitioning into the commercial sphere.

Zoe Strauss
Installation shot from Strauss’s Under I-95 exhibit in 2006.

Strauss’ solo show at Silverstein Photography in Chelsea opens May 17. A self-taught photographer who came up outside the gallery system, Strauss is a completely self-made artist. Her most groundbreaking feat is her annual “Under I-95” show (see A-List, p. 40) in which she installs photos on the concrete pillars under the elevated highway and sells color copies for $5 each.

At her Silverstein show she’ll have those $5 prints available alongside high-quality archival prints—an almost breathtakingly non-Chelsea move. “Zoe transitioned into this commercial gallery with complete integrity,” says Martinez.

Gabe Martinez
Gabe Martinez, Totentanz
Silver gelatin print
20 x 16 inches
Edition of 5

Martinez’s first solo show in a commercial gallery happens in October at Boston’s Samson Gallery. (The Sol Mednick show is part of the Samson project.) Because he sees this as a singular opportunity, he’s stepping down from his role as director of graduate photography at Penn Design to work on the project.

Gabe Martinez
Martinez, 2007, Self Portraits by Heterosexual Men

“Self Portraits by Heterosexual Men 2007” involves performances by 100 different men who’ve agreed to photograph themselves (from the knees down) at the moment of climax while masturbating in the privacy of their own homes. Some of the men are Martinez’s colleagues; others he recruited from Craigslist and telephone chatrooms.

Gabe Martinez
Gabe Martinez. 2007 Self Portraits by Heterosexual men.

Once the person agreed to participate, Martinez scheduled a time, then arrived with his camera and kit: KY jelly, tissues, wipes and pornography. He set up the camera focused low to the ground, then left and came back later to retrieve his work. Each participant got a print. Fifty-three works from the series are up at Sol Mednick. Samson will have all 100.

Gabe Martinez
The Self Portraits by Heterosexual men project in 1998. The photos in 1998 were ambrotypes and suggested Victoriana. This time the photos are digital prints and much larger.

The whole project, Martinez says, is about trust. That and the male gaze. The project has the ambience of a Victorian gentleman’s science experiment crossed with CSI and American Idol. Who did it? How’d they do it? Let’s vote on it!

“Somebody called me the Mary Poppins of masturbation,” Martinez laughs.

Gabriel Martinez: “Current Mischief”
Thurs., May 3, 5-7pm. Through May 4. Sol Mednick Gallery, Terra Bldg., 15th fl., 211 S. Broad St. 215.717.6300.

Zoe Strauss: “If You Break the Skin You Must Come In”
Thurs., May 3, 5-7pm. Through May 4. Gallery 1401, Terra Bldg., 14th fl., 211 S. Broad St. 215.717.6300.