Artist Marilyn Minter on Depicting the Unexpected and Reclaiming Images of Women

Marilyn Minter’s paintings, photographs, and videos often depict the female body in a variety of ways—from up-close views of women’s feet in heels and eyeshadow-covered eyelids to more explicit sexual imagery—to confront beauty standards, desire, and pleasure in her work. They’ve been described as “steamy, soiled, smeared, and sensual,” as […]

Marilyn Minter’s paintings, photographs, and videos often depict the female body in a variety of ways—from up-close views of women’s feet in heels and eyeshadow-covered eyelids to more explicit sexual imagery—to confront beauty standards, desire, and pleasure in her work. They’ve been described as “steamy, soiled, smeared, and sensual,” as Brooke Jaffe notes in a recent interview with Minter for “ARTnews Live,” our ongoing IGTV series featuring interviews with a range of creatives.

“I’m always thinking in terms of: What do we know exists, but you’ve never seen an image of it?” Minter told Jaffe, referring to her depictions of sweat, freckles, and body hair, which are often removed from images that circulate in the media.

“We’re shot through with imperfection,” she continued, adding that we all take “shameful pleasure” in glamour, fashion, and near-impossible beauty standards for women. “I think of it as a giant industry in our culture, but we have nothing but contempt for it. Why are we ashamed of it giving us pleasure?” To women everywhere, she offers “anything that makes you feel good about yourself, I’m all for.”

For decades, Minter has approached her art through a feminist lens. Her methods of working, like those of other feminist artists, including Carolee Schneeman, Betty Tompkins, and Judith Bernstein, have often engendered controversy.

“There is always resistance to sexual imagery if women are the agency,” she says. In Western society, “women are supposed to be the objects of sexual desire and when women own the agency of it or production of it, it becomes a lot of trouble.” Minter and others of her generation used their gender as a way to challenge the meaning and perception of their work. She goes on to describe her experiences of sourcing pornographic imagery from shops along 42nd Street in 1980s New York to use in her early work.

Hanging on the wall behind Minter in her studio are two new portraits of Lady Gaga and an unknown woman shown in a steamy atmosphere. During her interview with Jaffe, Minter details the techniques that went into making them and how they connect to earlier works such as Pop Rocks (2009), which shows a woman’s tongue covered in the candy licking a pane of glass. Jaffe and Minter also discussed the artist’s lifetime activism and her foray into fashion with Tom Ford, among other topics.

Minter’s videos are currently on view in her solo exhibition “Smash” at MoCA Westport in Norwalk, Connecticut, through June 13.

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