DETROIT — The allocation of resources is a critical consideration for any artist, whether on the personal, local, or global level. The question facing Colombian artist Adriana Martínez, and her group of friends and collaborators from university, was how to continue working as artists as they prepared to leave school. They organized into a multi-faceted collective, which manages an under-the-radar gallery space in Bogotá called Miami; a representative arm called Carne that infiltrates art fairs; and a budding curatorial exchange program that functions as an apparatus for continuing education beyond the university setting.
“Bogotá doesn’t have big museums or strong institutions,” said Martínez, during an artist talk with curator-at-large Jens Hoffmann at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit (MOCAD), where she is having her first major solo show in the United States. “The [university] teachers are showing in galleries. Kids from school learn art in galleries. At the same time, we don’t have a big market, so galleries have also had to be institutions and become meeting points.”
The collective efforts at Miami were trendsetting, forging pathways for a rising number of artist-run spaces in Bogotá. This trajectory resonates with Detroit’s DIY gallery culture, and is perhaps what led Hoffmann to single out Martínez for the slot in the 2017 “Detroit Affinities” line-up, which alternates between Detroit-based artists and out-of-towners whose work resonates with one another. Martínez, for instance, will be followed by Detroit artist and gallerist Alivia Zivich, who co-founded What Pipeline, an experimental space in Southwest Detroit.
“I realized, on the one hand, Adriana’s work was very specific about the conditions in Colombia, but also moving beyond that,” said Hoffmann, during their gallery talk. Martínez’s art primarily focuses on the geopolitical implications of resource distribution. Her work is extremely concrete and hyper-literal — for example, the most recent installment of her fruit stand series presents plastic reproductions of trade commodity fruits, such as bananas plastered with stickers, from companies that grow, trade, and sell them globally.
“This piece is about the infrastructure behind fresh fruits,” said Martínez. “They’re healthy and supposed to be good for us — but even if it’s healthy for you, what’s behind it is maybe not so healthy.” Martínez points out that while Carmen Miranda was at Disney singing upbeat promotional jingles for bananas, Colombians were reeling from the Banana Massacre, a massacre of workers for the United Fruit Company that served to break an allegedly Communist strike that was interfering with efforts to meet rising demand.
These challenges to cultural relativism permeate much of Martínez’s work, which very successfully identifies and reconfigures everyday items that function both as utilitarian objects and national symbols. “At the End of the Rainbow” is a work entirely comprised of colorful currencies from various South American nations — Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Brazil, Chile, Argentina — sorted and rolled to make the eponymous rainbow.
“Money is supposed to be worth something,” said Martínez. “How can I change what it means without breaking it?” By lifting the money out of circulation, in Martínez’s view, “It stops being money and it starts being countries.”
As Hoffmann pointed out, there are also questions of face value versus perceived value at play. “The piece can potentially rise in value as an artwork,” he said, “but at the same time, the money that is used to make it is losing value, because Latin American countries have a lot of inflation. The value of the actual piece is in flux.”
Taking mildly subversive swipes at the art market seems to be the purview of Carne, of which Martínez is a co-founding member. “Art fairs belong to a specific part of the economy,” said Martínez. “Can we subvert global economies?” Carne has indirectly participated in art fairs many times now, sometimes popping up in another venue’s space, sometimes renting a local Airbnb and setting up an adjacent art show. Members of Carne are playful about self-representation in these settings, with in-booth shenanigans, including role-play, switching between artist, gallerist, and assistant, depending on the visitor to their booth. Martínez characterizes their activities as, “going around the bureaucracy,” and it’s clear that Hoffmann takes real delight in this kind of cheeky subversion, but it also smacks of social critique from so far inside the system that it does nothing to rattle the cage. Attending an art fair is still, at the end of the day, attending an art fair, and Martínez and her crew are not the first artists to package art world ambitions in a thin veneer of art world subversion.
Martínez, for her playfulness, seems to be a serious character, and possesses of the kind of determination it takes to break local orbit. The issues she deals with are universal and extremely topical: information trading, garbage, globalization, and the end of the world. It speaks to a special kind of sensibility, that she’s able to make art that is engaging and funny out of inspiration so heavy. For a young artist, she seems acutely aware of her resources, and more prepared than most to allocate them appropriately.
Detroit Affinities: Adriana Martínez continues on display at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit (MOCAD) through April 23.