Marilyn Minter and her 21st Century Bathers

Marilyn Minter, Nebulous, 2018. Enamel on metal, 90 x 60 inches. Courtesy the artist, Lehmann Maupin, Hong Kong, and Salon 94, New York.
Portrait of Marilyn Minter. Photo by Nadya Wasylko Courtesy the artist, Lehmann Maupin, Hong Kong, and Salon 94, New York.
Marilyn Minter, Indigo, 2018. Dye sublimation print 40 x 30 inches, 101.6 x 76.2 cm. Courtesy the artist, Lehmann Maupin, Hong Kong, and Salon 94, New York.
Marilyn Minter, Stills from My Cuntry ‘Tis of Thee, 2018. HD Digital Video. Courtesy the artist, Lehmann Maupin, Hong Kong, and Salon 94, New York.
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Honest, candid and exciting – American painter Marilyn Minter (b. 1948, USA) is coming to Lehmann Maupin in Hong Kong, opening a show of ravishing and somewhat explicit paintings and photographs of women. Art Critic Barbara Pollack visited Minter’s New York studio for a privileged preview chat with the artist.

TEXT: Barbara Pollack
IMAGES: Courtesy of the artist

Marilyn Minter, Nebulous, 2018. Enamel on metal, 90 x 60 inches. Courtesy the artist, Lehmann Maupin, Hong Kong, and Salon 94, New York.

 

This is the first chance for those in Asia to get acquainted with an artist who has been challenging audiences since the 1990s with works that are sexy and decidedly feminist.  Combining activism and art making, this artist never holds back her opinions but speaks openly and directly, whether addressing American politics or western art history.

This week, I visited Minter in her New York studio, a large white space a-buzz with ideas and projects while a team of six assistants prep paintings that the artist will toil over for months at a time.   But painting is only one aspect of Minter’s practice.  In another corner, two interns work on plaques depicting Donald Trump boasting that he can “grab them by their pussy” and get away with it, as he was once caught saying off camera during a television appearance.  These will be sold at $1000 each to raise money for left-wing candidates in the upcoming November elections.   Despite frequent interruptions, Minter stayed focused long enough to discuss the works she is planning to show in Hong Kong and to share her plans for her trip to Shanghai the following week.

 

Portrait of Marilyn Minter. Photo by Nadya Wasylko Courtesy the artist, Lehmann Maupin, Hong Kong, and Salon 94, New York.

 

What went into planning this, your first show in Asia?

In my case, right now, timing.  I can only make ten paintings a year.  It takes very long to apply layers and layers and layers of enamel.  And I had only six months to put together a body of work for Asia so I only have two new paintings.  I filled in the gaps with two large paintings that I’ve had for a while and with photographs.  The entire show is about ’21st century bathing’.  As you know, there is no pubic hair in art history except for the one famous one [referring to Courbet’s Origin of the World] but bathers have been the subject of artists since the beginning of art.  It’s always women. I’m just making a 21st century version of that.

 

What does Marilyn Minter bring to the bather that hasn’t been seen in art history?

For one, pubic hair.  But moreover, a female point of view.  It is not at all voyeuristic as it has been in art history.  I think at one point paintings of bathers were pin-ups for everyone.  Where would they ever see naked women other than a museum?  The Classicists and the Mannerists really love portraying women bathing or grooming or goddesses caught in the nude. It always had some kind of voyeuristic appeal.  But in my mind, it’s about turning the subject into a modern woman.  She’s real.  She’s not this idealized woman.  In fact, the woman in these paintings is named Seashell Coker.  I found her on Instagram.    I use the explore menu to look at people and I loved her look.  Who knows what she is?  I always use mixed race people but Seashell just has this real unusual look.  It’s riveting.

 

Have you thought about what people will think of your work in an Asian context?

No, I never think about that.  I don’t have a choice.  I mean I make what I make. I don’t care what people think.  I mean I care when I’m not communicating and people run out of the room, like they did in the 1990s. You know, the gallery is not taking any of the “bush” paintings, painting that focus on pubic hair.  But they are taking breasts.

 

Marilyn Minter, Indigo, 2018. Dye sublimation print 40 x 30 inches, 101.6 x 76.2 cm. Courtesy the artist, Lehmann Maupin, Hong Kong, and Salon 94, New York.

 

You can show breasts in Hong Kong.

Really? I just don’t know because when I go to Shanghai, they are censoring my talk.  It’s just my regular lecture that I do at every university and museum, starting with what I was drawing when I was a little girl to the present.   The gallery director warned me that she might have to take some of the images out for my talk at the How Museum in Shanghai. We’ve been editing all morning.

 

How do you feel about having images of yours censored?

I am used to it.  I don’t really like it but I also understand that in Mainland China they are like 50 years behind the times.  They don’t even have total access to the internet. I think in ten years, the differences between our two cultures are going to disappear.  I remember 20 years ago, when I drove across the U.S., I was struck by the way the kids in a gas station in Montana looked the same as kids on Long island, because of MTV [the music video station].  They all wore their baseball caps backwards, they all had the same look, because music videos had leveled the playing field.  I know the same thing is going to happen here. I think millennials are a lot more concerned with justice and inequality than any other age group, anywhere, even in Hong Kong and China, because they have this flood of information from the internet.  It makes you a lot less prejudiced because nothing scares you as much since you’ve already seen it.  You’ve seen pictures of it so it’s not a shock.  And that eventually translates down to everyone.   As long as the internet is available, all these things are going to get erased.

 

What was your experience of being censored in the United States?  I know you got into particular trouble when you first repurposed pornography and used that kind of imagery in your work.

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.

 

You are doing a lot of political work in addition to your artwork?

I always have.  I always have done political work. I just didn’t have a platform before.  Now people pay attention to what I say.  Nobody did before.  I was just another marcher.  I’ve been politically active since I was sixteen. I was born this way.  I grew up in the deep South and I saw all this injustice against black people and it made me crazy and I don’t know why.   So I was involved with civil rights in the South and then the Vietnam war, and now we have as our president… I’m trying to memorize this tweet I read…”a rancid quivering bag of weapon-grade idiocy.”   I think he’s insane and unhinged and should be taken out.

This year, I’m helping Downtown for Democracy, a loose knit group of artists and cultural movers and people who just volunteer.  We are doing this weeklong event called “Protest Factory.  The dealer Jeffrey Deitch gave us a space where we will sell prints and editions to raise money that will be funneled into “swing left” candidates.  Richard Prince helped us raise over $300,000 just from the stuff he gave us.  Cecily Brown gave us a $500 print and we sold out the edition.  Nothing costs more than $1500 and everything is strictly voluntary.  I’ve always been an activist.  I didn’t turn into an activist recently.

 

Marilyn Minter, Stills from My Cuntry ‘Tis of Thee, 2018. HD Digital Video. Courtesy the artist, Lehmann Maupin, Hong Kong, and Salon 94, New York.

 

Where else can people see your work in Hong Kong or Shanghai?

A video of mine is going to be playing on the exterior of H Code building in Hong Kong. It’s a video I made back in 2009 as something of a goof.   I dropped heavy metal letters — “M” and “E” — into pools of silver paint, actually vodka with silver coloring, in slow motion.  It spelled “me” because artists are such narcissists.  The video is called, “I’m not much but I’m all I think about.”  It will be showing in October and November.

 

What else are you working on right now?

I am trying to make a new body of work of this red head.  I have a show in England and one in New York at Salon 94, so I have just two years to make the whole body of work. But I have to wait for the woman’s pubic hair to grow out.

 

Thank you!

 

 

MARILYN MINTER
August 30 – October 27, 2018
Preview 30 August 2018
Lehmann Maupin (Hong Kong)

 

In Conversation with Marilyn Minter Women of Impact Series
Wed 29 Aug 2018, 6:30 – 8 p.m.
Asia Society Hong Kong Center
9 Justice Drive, Admiralty

 

 

About the artist

Marilyn Minter (b. 1948, Shreveport, LA; lives and works in New York) received her BFA from University of Florida in 1970, and her MFA from Syracuse University, New York in 1972. Solo exhibitions of her work have been organized at the Brooklyn Museum, New York (2016-2017); Orange County Museum of Art, Newport, CA (2016); Museum of Contemporary Art, Denver, CO (2015); Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston, TX (2015); Deichtorhallen, Hamburg, Germany (2011); Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego, CA (2010); Museum of Modern Art, New York (2010); La Conservera, Centro de Arte Contemporáneo, Ceutí/Murcia, Spain (2009); and San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, CA (2005). Her work is also in numerous international private and public collections, including the Perez Art Museum, Miami; The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, CA; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; The Museum of Modern Art, New York; Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York.

 

 


 

Barbara Pollack

Since 1994,  Barbara Pollack has written on contemporary art for such publications as The New York Times,  the Village Voice,  Art in America,  Vanity Fair and of course,  Artnews,  among many others.   She is the author of the book,  The Wild, Wild East: An American Art Critic’s Adventures in China and has written dozens of catalogue essays for a wide range of international artists.  In addition to writing,  Pollack is an independent curator who organized the exhibition,  We Chat: A Dialogue in Contemporary Chinese Art,  currently at Asia Society Texas and she is a professor at the School of Visual Arts in New York. She has been awarded two grants from the Asian Cultural Council as well as receiving the prestigious Creative Capital/Andy Warhol Foundation Arts Writer Grant.

 

 

 
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