Organized by New York-based artist Conrad Ventur, MONTEZLAND presents an expanded portrait of the legendary pre-Stonewall drag performer Mario Montez (1935-2013). Showcasing ephemera, photographs, documents, costumes, and film, the exhibition explores Montez’s role in and influence on the New York underground during the 1960s and 70s. MONTEZLAND includes recent collaborations between Montez and Ventur alongside documentation of Montez’s earlier works with Leandro Katz, Charles Ludlam, Hélio Oiticica, José Rodriguez-Soltero, Jack Smith, Andy Warhol, and Avery Willard, among others.
Montez was born René Rivera in Ponce, Puerto Rico, and grew up in East Harlem. In 1960, the performer met Jack Smith, becoming his muse and lover and appearing in Smith’s seminal underground film Flaming Creatures (1962-63) as Dolores Flores. It was at Smith’s suggestion that Rivera would take the name Mario Montez in homage to the campy 1940s Hollywood B movie actress Maria Montez. He would go on to appear in Smith’s Normal Love, No President, and other shorts, as well as thirteen films by Andy Warhol, who would co-opt Smith’s use of the term “superstar” to describe Montez and other underground performers. Montez would also co-found Charles Ludlam’s Ridiculous Theatrical Company in 1967 and play the lead role in José Rodriguez-Soltero’s Lupe (1966) about the death of 1940s Mexican Hollywood actress Lupe Vélez. In 1977, Montez retired from the New York art world and remained largely untraceable until 2010.
Montez and Ventur met not long after the performer emerged from a 35-year retirement. Their first collaboration re-staged Warhol’s screen test of Montez from 1965, part of a larger series of videos by Ventur re-examining the superstars in their old age. The two would later collaborate on a portfolio of film-still-esque photographs, portraits, and video works. Before Montez’ sudden passing in September 2013, the two were organizing a durational multi-media performance based in part on his roles from The Ridiculous Theatrical Company and favorite scenes from Hollywood films.
In addition to the collaborative photographs and videos with Ventur, the exhibition includesphotographs of Montez by Avery Williard, Montez’s spread in Gay Power from January 1969, two headdresses worn by Montez, and flyers from the Ridiculous Theatrical Company, among numerous other objects and archival materials. This exhibition marks the first such show on the West Coast to explore Montez’s life and influence as well as the first large-scale showing of Montez and Ventur’s collaborations.
In conjunction with MONTEZLAND, ONE Archives will present a screening of film and video on Wednesday, November 19, 2014, at the West Hollywood Council Chambers (Details TBA). The screening will be followed by a launch party for a zine on the exhibition published by Boo-Hooray.
MONTEZLAND is organized by Conrad Ventur and David Evans Frantz, Curator at ONE Archives at the USC Libraries. Support is provided by The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts.
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Working within the media of photography and video for the last ten years, and more recently using installation, Conrad Ventur is interested in activating moving image archives, whether finding material online or looking at specific underground film archives and repositioning them in exhibition formats. He often brings together pioneers of living theater with a younger generation of performers in live and recorded environments. Born in Seattle, raised in New Haven, and living in New York since 2000, Ventur has chronicled his New York life with photography and the publication USELESS for over a decade. His single-channel and multi-channel video installations have been shown internationally. Ventur recently exhibited at The Andy Warhol Museum; Center for Curatorial Studies at Bard College; MoMA PS1; Moscow International Biennial III; and Kunsthalle Winterthur, Switzerland. Recent solo screenings include The High Museum of Art; The Museum of Modern Art, New York; and C/O, Berlin. In 2012, Ventur’s 13 Most Beautiful/Screen Tests Revisited (2009-2011) were acquired by The Whitney Museum of American Art.
Image: (Top) Conrad Ventur, MM#7, 2010-2013. Courtesy of the artist
ONE Gallery, West Hollywood
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