NYT Review: "Marilyn Minter: Pretty/Dirty"

Review: "Marilyn Minter: Pretty/Dirty," (Gregory R. Miller & Company/Contemporary Arts Museum ­Houston/Museum of Contemporary Art Denver)
Parul Sehgal, June 25, 2015

Chewing Pink, 2009
Marilyn Minter, c-print

Marilyn Minter is partial to spit, ­spatter and redheads. Hers is a “Black Mass brand of femininity,” in the words of the poet Eileen Myles, and she’s become best known for candy-colored shots of dirty feet in designer heels, puffy pubic hair, navels ringed with beads of sweat; paintings and photographs that blur high art and high fashion, photorealism and abstraction. It’s a body of work that’s playful and nasty and full of surprise.

“Marilyn Minter: Pretty/Dirty” has been published in conjunction with her first major retrospective, now at the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston. It contains her work from 1969 on, and encomiums from the likes of Richard Hell (“She is a filthy sensualist, just like God”); and it marks a career pocked by notoriety and periods of paralysis — elevated, now, in her 60s, by sudden fame. Excommunicated from the art world in the early ’90s for her cheerful paintings of hard-core pornography — Minter said feminists accused her of sexism — today she shows her work at the Venice Biennale; she’s collected by the Guggenheim and Jay Z and is a godmother to a new generation of artists experimenting with what she calls “the feminine grotesque.”

Like her images, “Marilyn Minter: Pretty/Dirty” is seductive and glittery, an ­object of desire. It highlights what appears to be almost innate talent (Diane Arbus was a fan of her student work) and an equally preternatural ability to attract censure — as well as some faithful obsessions.

Minter taught herself to draw by tracing princesses and the comic-strip heroine Brenda Starr, a well-upholstered “lady reporter” modeled on Rita Hayworth. She’s always been moved and amused by the trappings of gender, its rites and representations in pop culture. In her 20s, she began to tap the seam central to her work, what she calls “the pathology of glamour.” As a student at the University of Florida, she took the photographs that would become the “Coral Ridge Towers” series (1969), featuring her mother, a Southern belle gone to seed, posing stoned and imperious as she freshens her lipstick and dyes her eyebrows. Minter took just 12 shots, six of which are included in this book. It’s astonishing to see her themes emerge so fully formed: the eroticism of the beauty ritual, the armature of glamour, the pathos and delicious anarchy that ensue when the mask begins to slip.

Minter’s classmates, however, were less entranced; they found the photographs cruel and unfeeling. She dropped the project in favor of more conventional feminist images in the vein of Laurie Simmons and Cindy Sherman — critiques of domesticity and consumerism, pointillist paintings of housework, a series of photographs of “female traces”: lipstick on cigarettes or napkins. To publicize an art show, she bought 30-second advertising spots during late-night television talk shows and produced a commercial called “100 Food Porn,” featuring her images of a woman’s hands suggestively fondling vegetables and cutting into meat.

In 1989, Minter began her infamous pornography series, included in this book. The work seems surprisingly tame today, noteworthy only for the furor it once caused — and, oddly enough, for its humor. “Just people having a good time,” she would later wistfully recall.

A version of the feminist critique still dogs her. Many of her recent photographs of women could be advertisements or have been (she’s designed campaigns for Tom Ford, M.A.C. Cosmetics and Jimmy Choo). She’s frequently asked if she’s ­celebrating or condemning fashion, to stake her position more explicitly. She usually demurs. “I’m not trying to define or criticize culture,” she has said. “I’m trying to make you feel all these things when you look — the pleasure of looking but also the shame, because you want to look even though the images make you hate yourself.” She likes complicated ways of seeing, muddled messages. Her video “Smash” (2014) begins like a high-fashion commercial: A woman in stilettos poses for a moment in a silvery puddle of water — and then launches a terrific kick through the pane of glass separating her from the viewer. What seems coquettish at first turns into an athletic performance, full of fury. The model, the caged animal, strikes back.

Minter doesn’t denigrate fashion or porn; she harnesses their powers (just as she harnesses the powers of commercial mediums — television and print advertisements, billboards). She’s interested, she says, in “debased” languages, in everything that excites the limbic system — shiny things, scary things, gold and babies and food and sex — and in confusing our networks of disgust and desire. She’s interested in the flinch; see “Green Pink Caviar” (2009), her funny and obscene eight-minute video (displayed, improbably, in the middle of Times Square), in which models smear candy and cake decorations with their mouths. Minter filmed them from beneath the glass on which the food was heaped; lips and tongues — so hugely magnified we can see every papilla — roving slowly, like dreamy, enormous eels. It triggers almost primal fascination, revulsion and laughter.

Bacon said he wanted “to paint the scream more than the horror.” Minter’s multivalent mouths manage to be both the scream and the horror, the laughter and the joke. “I’ve always been interested in things that drip, things that sweat, wet things,” she says. Her work celebrates this leakiness in self and sensibility, too, in pleasures that can’t be bound by ideology or taste. Everything runs in her work, everything runs free.


Better Late than Never? Female Artists We Should Have Known About Decades Ago

May 15th offering from the New York Times Style Magazine:A very small sampling of the female artists now in their 70s, 80s and 90s we should have known about decades ago. 

So what is worse, that these artists should have been recognized decades ago, or that the current recognition is to be found in the Sunday Supplement Style Magazine? Grateful for the enlightenment, but O! the indignity of decontextualization!


Petra Collins, et. al. Young Women Showing and Gazing



A number of young women artist are discussed in NYTimes article The Female Gaze by Jenna Wortham. Their bold imagery is raising questions: what is appropriate? subversive? expressive? indecent? girl power? disingenuous? sexual object?

What comes through is a nascent, evolving movement. “I wanted to create a space for girls like me to show their work and connect with one another,” Collins writes, and that is what she has done and is doing, as sincerely as promised. It’s the continuation of a developing conversation online, one created and defined by the women who are living it. You can't help wondering what else isn’t being shown.


Reminded of Angela Carter's The Bloody Chamber

Kelly Link is the author, most recently, of Get in Trouble. This essay is adapted from her introduction to an edition of “The Bloody Chamber: And Other Stories” published this month for the 75th anniversary of Angela Carter’s birth. She wonders, as do we,

Carter died in 1992. She would have turned 75 this year, and how I yearn for more of her. What would she make of the stories we tell now? What new thing would she make?...everything I needed to learn I found in “The Bloody Chamber”: the playfulness and generosity and friction — of ideas, in the admixture of high and low, the mythic and the realistic. Here are 10 overlapping stories about marriage and sexual awakening, decay and transformation, house cats and big cats, wolves and people who act like wolves. There are retellings of “Beauty and the Beast” and “Bluebeard.” There are counts and countesses, brides and husbands, mothers and fathers. There are only a handful of named characters, many just signifiers: Mr. Lyon and Beauty and Wolf-Alice.

She concludes:  “The girls and women in “The Bloody Chamber” remake the rules of their stories with their boldness. They know boldness is the point.”


Rebecca Solnit - Men Explain Lolita to Me

While we honor Ovid's declaration that  "All things change, nothing is extinguished."  We must also honor Rebecca Solnit's latest mansplaination regarding the fact that some things (a.k.a., privileged white men) never seem to change as she discusses opinions about her interpretation of Vladimir Nabokov's 1955 novel, Lolita.
It is a fact universally acknowledged that a woman in possession of an opinion must be in want of a correction. Well, actually, no it isn’t, but who doesn’t love riffing on Jane Austen?… 
...It isn’t a fact universally acknowledged that a person who mistakes his opinions for facts may also mistake himself for God. This can happen if he’s been insufficiently exposed to the fact that there are also other people who have other experiences, and that they too were created equal, with certain inalienable rights, and that consciousness thing that is so interesting and troubling is also going on inside their heads. This is a problem straight white men suffer from especially, because the western world has held up a mirror to them for so long—and turns compliant women into mirrors reflecting them back twice life size, Virginia Woolf noted. 
Too many men are blinded by privelobliviousness, but Solnit believes in the power of art to transform one way or another...a good reminder for those who wish to change the world.
You read enough books in which people like you are disposable, or are dirt, or are silent, absent, or worthless, and it makes an impact on you. Because art makes the world, because it matters, because it makes us. Or breaks us.


Research - James Elkins

James Elkins is E.C. Chadbourne Professor in the Department of Art History, Theory, and Criticism, School of the Art Institute of Chicago. He writes on art and non-art images; his recent books include On the Strange Place of Religion in Contemporary Art, Visual Studies: A Skeptical Introduction,What Happened to Art Criticism? and Master Narratives and Their Discontents. He edited two book series for Routledge: The Art Seminar (conversations on different subjects in art theory) and Theories of Modernism and Postmodernism in the Visual Arts (short monographs on the shape of the twentieth century); currently he is organizing a seven-year series called the Stone Summer Theory Institute (stonesummertheoryinstitute.org). (jameselkins@fastmail.jp)
[revised 7 February, 2009]