Daniel Joseph Martinez: LAXART
Miles, Christopher, Artforum International
In new nonprofit gallery LAXART's inaugural show, Daniel Joseph Martinez revisited the straightforward presentation of text and image that defined his early practice, one which often addressed the subject of polarization but was itself polarizing. The artist's I CAN'T IMAGINE EVER WANTING TO BE WHITE badges, distributed to visitors at the 1993 Whitney Biennial, remain iconic of late-'80s/early-'90s work around the politics of racial identity. Yet while this selection of new works was characterized by a high-contrast mix of black and white, the result felt oddly indeterminate.
Words were everywhere here, painted and printed on surfaces ranging from banners to the gallery's exterior wall. Though sources are never cited, some texts are borrowed. From Theodor W. Adorno and Max Horkheimer's Dialectic of Enlightenment (1947) comes THE FULLY ENLIGHTENED EARTH RADIATES DISASTER TRIUMPHANT, reproduced on a billboard near the gallery. From Hugo Ball we get I CAN IMAGINE A TIME WHEN I WILL SEEK OBEDIENCE AS MUCH AS I HAVE TASTED DISOBEDIENCE, and from Zapatista leader Subcomandante Marcos, MY PURPOSE IS TO MAKE WAR AND WRITE LETTERS, both block printed by hand on card stock.
These lines shared the show with texts of the artist's invention, generating a linguistic chaos that was nonetheless both poetic and insistent. One asks HOW WILL WE KNOW WHEN IT'S TIME TO THROW BOMBS while another proposes THIS WALK WOULD TAKE PLACE AS IF ON A BATTLEFIELD IN A WAR NO ONE ELSE UNDERSTOOD WAS BEING FOUGHT. Two photographs, Black Power/Black September 1968 Mexico City Olympics and Black September/Black Power 1972 Munich Olympics (all works 2006), offer views of, respectively, the winner's podium during Tommie Smith and John Carlos's famous civil rights protest and the dormitory where Israeli athletes were taken hostage. Neither image includes the telltale figures--the athletes raising their fists in a Black Power salute, the masked gunman. …