Raphael Montañez Ortiz, Artist in distribution, United States, 1934

Ortíz was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1934. He lives and work in New York. He began his studies in architecture and then moved to the field of fine art. He received both his BFA and MFA from Pratt Institute. After earning his MFA in 1964, he continued his education at the Teachers College of Columbia University and earned a doctorate degree in Fine Arts and Fine Arts in Higher Education. Ortíz has been a Professor of Art at Rutgers University since 1972. He was also founder of El Museo Del Barrio in New York City in 1969, the first Latino art museum in the US.

Raphael Ortiz has created mixed-media ritual performances and installations for museums and galleries in Europe and Canada and throughout the United States, including the Whitney Museum of American Art and MOCA. Ortiz was a participating member of the Destruction In Art Symposium in London in 1966. His video Dance Number 22 won the Gran Prix at the 1993 Locarno International Video Festival of Switzerland. In October 2013, The Hirshhorn Museum hosted Ortiz as a panelist and featured performance artist at their International Performance Art Symposium, Damage Control.

Ortíz's work can be found in museum collections throughout Europe and the United States. In the late 1950s, he produced destroyed works in cinema, performance, and sculpture. Since the 1980s, Ortíz has also been interested in digital art. Much of his work is politically and socially engaged, addressing ritual, transcendence, and performance. He challenges notions of the spiritual nature of humans through artistic ritual. In particular, he is interested in indigenous cultural practices and incorporates them into performances that expose the process of deconstruction. His deconstructionist videos often appropriate and manipulate found footage images from Hollywood film.

His computer-laser-scratch video works are in numerous collections, including the Ludwig Museum in Cologne, Germany, the Smithsonian, and the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris. His sculptures are included in many museum collections, such as the Museum of Modern Art, the Tate, and the Whitney Museum of American Art; he has twice been featured in the Whitney Biennial.

Widely known for his piano destruction performances and the elaboration of the Destructivist movement, Raphael Montañez Ortiz is remarkable in many other ways: as the founder of El Museo del Barrio in New York in 1969, as a prolific writer of essays and manifestos, as well as a committed activist and pedagogue. He is also a pioneer of American film culture, having made a series of innovative found footage films starting in the late 1950s.

Influenced by the Dadaists, Montañez Ortiz adopts a practice inspired by Yaqui shamanic rituals, which consists in appropriating existing films and breaking up their narrative continuity. As part of his unconventional method, he destroys the images in his possession by experimenting "every possible permutation: right-side up and forward, upside down and in reverse, and so on." (Scott MacDonald)

Starting in 1985, Montañez Ortiz begins a series of what he calls "digital/laser/videos"; he makes a large number of these "arresting, provocative and suggestive" works (Scott MacDonald). He selects excerpts of commercial films on laser disc, which he deconstructs with the help of a computer program installed on one of the first Apple models. Using a joystick, he experiments with cutting up the seconds of action of his choice and moving them back and forth at different speeds, while also modifying the sound. He manipulates these sequences as many times as necessary until the result is ready to be fixed on video tape.

This approach to found footage is experimental not only in aesthetic terms. As the artist distorts a scene's temporal structure, he also deconstructs the cultural canons which are proper to cinema; he also does this, to some degree, to political ends, as he denounces colonialism, capitalism and patriarchy in Western society.