All that glitters is not gold.
"Merchant of Venice" William Shakespeare
Marilyn Minter's survey exhibition, currently at the Orange County Museum of Art, is a display of dichotomies; between beauty and the abjection, and, as the title indicates "Pretty/Dirty." However, there is more to Minter's work than a dichotomy of beauty and abjection. Minter uses the the dichotomy to reveal the underside of beauty that is "dirty" and in fact ugly. Minter's work is difficult because it is more than what meets the image.
Minter's early work began to explore the subject of beauty and decay with a series of photographs in 1969 featuring the artist's mother. The portfolio entitled "Coral Ridge Towers" depicts the artist's mother in various modes of putting make up on and getting dressed. Minter is exploring the struggle between retaining beauty and youth, and the eventual coming of old age. The photos are compelling in that Minter does not portray her mother as a victim. Instead, she has a dignity and pride that reveals an inner and outer beauty; something where the artist's mother is comfortable in her own condition. Minter is making a statement that the pursuit of beauty is a constant pursuit despite the decay of aging.
Minter's early paintings were in line with the trends of photo-realism, and feminist approaches to the image during the 1970s. The early works reflect an influence of Sylvia Plimack Mangold's floor paintings of the same time. From the mid 1970s to the late 1980s, Minter did not produce work. When she returned to making art, Minter started where she left off with the "Coral Ridge Towers" series by exploring the relationship between beauty and the self-image of women. The paintings of that time were photo-realist, with the application of Benday dots while appropriating photos from advertisements.
From the mid 1990s to the most recent works in the exhibition, Minter's paintings appropriate the eroticism and glamour of fashion magazines and advertisements. As stated before, Minter's work is an exercise in dichotomies. where beauty and abjection meet and pain and pleasure coexist simultaneously and apart. Minter is coy when her paintings portray a glittering orgy of feet, high-heeled shoes and glitter as almost celebratory in their existence on the canvas. However, look closely the viewer sees something different. The paintings reveal dirt, cuts, distress, suffering and broken glass. There are tongues that protrude along the canvas while licking what seems to be caviar. The mouth both erotic and ugly licking the surface while the viewer may see as both disgusting and beautiful at the same time. The video works are in the same vein. In "Smash," the video portrays two feet, wearing jewel studded shoes and ankle bracelets, stomping upon the floor, while silver paint splashes around the stomping feet. The video is messy, and at times seem painful as the feet move throughout the screen with silver is splattering throughout the screen.
I cannot be complete in my analysis of Minter's work without mentioning her pornographic work, which has an emphasis on the dirty. The women are shown trimming pubic hair, performing fellatio, and other sexual acts that are overt. The paintings are in your face and up close. Art is never suppose to be clean. It can be uncomfortable and reveal something about ourselves that may be disturbing. Lust is a powerful emotion, and art can portray and substantiate something that is innately human about each and every one of us. Eroticism is nothing new in art. I am thinking about the 2nd Century AD Roman Villa of the Mysteries at Vesuvius to the 20th and 21st Century paintings of David Salle and Monica Majoli. Minter is working in the same vein by embracing the erotic. The works are liberating in their brashness and revelation.
Marilyn Minter is a liberated artist whose work is one about the idea of "Pretty/Dirty." A polarity that is prevalent, and announces itself in the subject-matter. Pleasure/pain, beauty/ugly, and sacred/profane are contrasted and embraced. When art challenges the viewer by presenting contrasts and dichotomies, it can either be chaotic and incomprehensible, or it can make art purely enjoyable and uncomfortable. Minter does the latter brilliantly.
"Pretty/Dirty" on view through July 10, 2016
Orange County Museum of Art
850 San Clemente Drive
Newport Beach, California 92660
Phone | 949-759-1122