Martine Syms (born 1988) is an American artist based in Los Angeles who works in publishing, video, and performance. In 2007, she coined the term “conceptual entrepreneur” to characterize her practice. The broad idea of the artist as an agent seeking financial self-determination runs throughout modern and contemporary art, most notably in works by Marcel Duchamp and Marcel Broodthaers but also Piero Manzoni, David Hammons, and Joe Scanlan. The idea was given its most explicit sanction in a text by Scanlan titled People in Trade, in which he outlines Conceptual Art’s business potential: “In the end, and quite ironically, so-called difficult artists like [Agnes] Martin and [David] Hammons have turned out to be much better economic models than their more celebrated counterparts could ever be. Their arcane interests, unique skills and often restrained production methods epitomize such concepts as personal branding, value adding, and just-in-time production philosophies, state of the art business innovations that they and other artists have never gotten credit for. Until now. The avant garde lives! Not because its more meaningful or radical than any other activity, but because it fills a legitimate market niche.”
Syms’ self-identified title sustains one of her main ideas: self-determination through a sustainable institution, which stems from her interest in independent music and black-owned businesses. Her artwork has been exhibited and screened at venues including Human Resources, Bridget Donahue Gallery, the New Museum, Kunsthalle Bern, The Studio Museum in Harlem, Index Stockholm, MOCA Los Angeles, and MCA Chicago. Syms teaches at the California Institute of the Arts.
In 2007, Syms received a BFA (Bachelor of Fine Arts) in Film, Video, and New Media at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. In 2009, Syms graduated from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. From 2007-2011 Syms ran Golden Age, an artist-run space in Chicago. Her work often explores contemporary black identity, queer theory, and the power of language through video, performance, writing and other media. Syms is the founder of Dominica Publishing, an artists’ press dedicated to exploring blackness in contemporary art and visual culture.
In 2011, Syms published “Implications and Distinctions,” an exploration of the performance of blackness in contemporary cinema, as part of the Future Plan and Program project created by Steffani Jemison.
In 2013, Syms published “The Mundane Afrofuturist Manifesto” through Rhizome. In her manifesto Syms calls for black diasporic artistic producers to create culture that focuses on a more realistic future on earth. Syms writes.
In 2014, Syms released Most Days, which consisted of a table read of Syms’ screenplay about what an average day looks like for a young black woman in 2050 Los Angeles. The score for the album was composed by Neal Reinalda.
In 2015, Syms was included in the New Museum Triennial Surround Audience. Her 2015 video Notes on Gesture, exhibited at Bridget Donahue Gallery in New York City and the Machine Project in Los Angeles, explores the role of seemingly insignificant bodily gestures in the creation of identity.
In 2016, Syms presented the performance “Misdirected Kiss” at the Storm King Art Center in New York’s Hudson Valley, and the Broad Museum in Los Angeles. The work takes the title from the 1904 film “The Misdirected Kiss”. At times resembling a TED talk, the work picks apart issues of language and representation.
Syms is the recipient of the 2017 Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation grant and is a 2018 Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts fellow. She obtained a MFA (Master of Fine Arts) from Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, NY in 2017.