February 23, 2017 | by Elisa Turner
As a photographer, María Martínez-Cañas pushes her medium to the edge and then some, manipulating photographic materials in highly experimental ways. Her art, with its recurring use of fragmented forms and images, has provoked comparisons to photomontages by the likes of John Heartfield and Alexander Rodchenko. The fragments revisit and reference her deep knowledge of art history, particularly in her native Cuba.
"I always try to challenge myself in the way photographic images are supposed to look," she explained to me in a February 11, 2017, interview at Fredric Snitzer Gallery, where her latest work is on view in "Rebus + Diversions" through March 6, 2017.
Born in Havana in 1960, Martínez-Cañas was brought that same year to Puerto Rico by her parents, before eventually settling in Miami. Like thousands of compatriots, her family and friends fled the island following Fidel Castro's rise to power in 1959. Raised by parents with close ties to Cuban and Latin American culture, she early displayed an acute visual sensitivity: painting as a child, meeting artists, and constantly snapping pictures with a Brownie camera. An exile's sense of displacement was integral to her artistic DNA.
Maria Martínez-Cañas has been widely recognized during a prolific career spanning nearly 40 years, with art in permanent collections of the Art Institute of Chicago, Ford Foundation, International Center of Photography, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Smithsonian's American Art Museum, Pérez Art Museum Miami, Museum of Modern Art, and others, according to the gallery.
In "Rebus + Diversions" at Snitzer, she's clearly challenged herself. Those who've watched her career evolve over the years may be astounded, as this critic was, by the exhibit. It's a huge departure.
In the Snitzer show, the artist has ricocheted into a shocking, even grating new realm. The show brings together 20 assemblages—described as "Mixed Media on Archival Arches Aquarelle Rag Paper"—created during an intense level of activity in 2016. The work on view is by far her most aggressively three-dimensional manipulation of photographic materials and artistic techniques.