Marilyn Minter. A lesson in persistence.

resilience & tenacity

The harvest: a hybrid

Jeff Koons [and me] we both got kicked out of the art world about the same time. He got rehabilitated when he did the puppy. I got back in when I showed the 1969 pictures of my mother in 1995 …

I was thrown out of shows in the 1990s. My gallery closed a week early when I did the “porn” show.  Everybody hated it so much. I got excoriated in the press.  The only support I got was from the gay community.  I was called a traitor to feminism because I repurposed and used images from an abusive history.  I said, it’s time for women to take control of their own production of imagery and that no one has politically correct fantasies and that women should make images for their own amusement.  And I was asking questions about whether it changes the meaning if a woman makes these images.  This was the first time that this was done in public.  Today, mostly I’m not included in shows because they think they don’t want to deal with what might happen if I am in the show. I am informally censored.

While a student at the University of Florida, in her early 20s, Minter made black-and-white photographs of her aging, pill-popping mother as she stared into mirrors and applied makeup. “My mother was a textbook narcissist,” said Minter. But though her mother aspired to Hollywood standards of beauty, “her glamour was off. I didn’t even think about it at the time” …“I just said, ‘Hey Mom, will you pose for me?’ I had nothing else to shoot. Nobody sees their mother as unusual. She was all I knew.

The proof sheets of that photo series, now known as “Coral Ridge Towers,” caught the eye of Diane Arbus when the legendary photographer visited the school’s art department in 1969. Arbus declared it the only student work she liked. But, Minter says, the other students were horrified—they had never seen addiction depicted so honestly. Ashamed, Minter ultimately stuck the film in a drawer for 25 years.

“People love my early work now. At the time, nobody could see it. I’m glad I didn’t destroy that. And it gave me street cred. I lived through being eviscerated by the art world. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, right? 

When I showed the pictures in 1995, it was, ‘Wait a minute, [Minter] must be a serious artist because she comes from dysfunction.’ So, she was a horrible mother, but she really helped my career.” She laughs.

Minter hates that she was told in art school that women aren’t great artists. One reason she persevered despite the pushback of the patriarchal culture was that she had access to [the] art magazine Evergreen Review. “There were these women who were well knownin the’60s that I was reading about,” she says. “Eva Hesse and Helen Frankenthaler. There were always women artists, they just were written out of history.”

This was in the ’60s, when there were still art movements, and the school I went to was invested in, like, this is the only truth, and it was Abstract Expressionism. They were dismissive of Pop Art and Conceptual art, and I was totally drawn to Warhol and the Factory. [The school] had nothing but contempt for working from images that already existed. I got a C in painting, and I got an A in photography, so I decided to major in photography.

When I was an undergraduate, I called the Factory to learn how to make silk screens, and they told me. I was ambitious. I just did things like that. I had no confidence, but I knew how to make a phone call. I was reading popular-culture magazines back then, and I saw the number to the Factory in a magazine. I read all the avant-garde magazines. I was and still am a voracious reader. I lived in bookstores.

The place I’m controversial now is that I don’t condemn glamor. It’s so “shallow” and “debased”; fashion is so “fleeting” and art is so “sacred”—and I just think that’s crap. I feel like that this is a billion-dollar industry and to ignore the power of it is really dangerous. I see the way that body image is being perpetrated … It’s too easy to criticise the fashion world; it gives so many people so much pleasure, while at the same time making you feel like you’re never going to look that good. That’s what my work is all about — showing the paradox of all of this. I make things people find disturbing, but they are also really beautiful.

Minter has photographed commercial spreads for fashion magazines, for Tom Ford, MAC cosmetics, and designed skateboard decks for the urban clothing brand Supreme. She doesn’t balk at that world infiltrating her work.

I’ve always gravitated toward women like Madonna and Pamela Anderson—they make a lot of money because they own their own agency. Pamela Anderson is a pin-up; that’s how she makes her money. But she’s not an Anna Nicole Smith or Marilyn Monroe, someone constantly being the victim of some Svengalis. They are using everything they’ve got to earn a living. Why not? If you can have power, why not? That’s the most powerful thing in the world — owning your own sexuality. That seems to frighten a lot of people, and I don’t understand why. I think it is healthier for everybody. 

Today Minter’s work is in museum collection around the world from the New York Guggenheim, to Paris and Zurich. She has completed a commission for JayZ and Beyonce; and even participated with a dancing cameo in JayZ’s Picasso Baby art performance piece. Her works have been shown at the Whitney Biennial (2006), and the Venice Biennale (20  ). Her film, Green Pink Caviar (2009), debuted at Salon 94 in 2009, was displayed in Times Square that spring, and in 2010 was screened at the Museum of Modern Art, New York. She also has had a major and comprehensive retrospective of her work; Pretty/Dirty (2015-16)

“I always knew I had something to say even when nobody else wanted to listen,” she has said. Now she regards those challenges instrumental to her career. “I sort of feel like if you’re slightly marginalized, you’re hungrier, and you can take more risks and be more playful.”

Image attribution: Photo by Michael Mundy for issue magazine. Sourced from Marilyn Minter Skatedecks set of three, polycromed wood decks, serigraph printed in colours, 2009, designed by Marilyn Minter in conjunction with Supreme. Sourced from
Words: This piece is a hybrid of the following articles: 

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