Maika Pollack reviews Marilyn Minter’s solo exhibition Pretty/Dirty at the Brooklyn Museum for Aperture, and isn’t terribly impressed by her recent work. Part of a yearlong series of exhibitions of women organized by the Brooklyn Museum, Pretty/Dirty gives an overview of Minter’s work and culminates in her more commercial photo-realistic work, and Pollack finds the words for that icky art fair aftertaste that we all know too well: “Her relationship to Surrealist photography or historical experimental work is shallow, while its relationship to corporate tie-in culture and art-fair capitalism is profound.”
Pollack also points out that Minter’s work often doesn’t supersede its object of critique, namely the male gaze and objectification of the female body, and calls Minter’s work “one of the boys” feminism. Touché. Read Pollack in partial below, in full via Aperture here.
At this point, the work in Pretty/Dirty suddenly shifts as we jump a decade forward and find large, photorealistic enamel-on-metal paintings—the Minters we often see at art fairs today. At first they seem tofocus on the “flaws” that are edited out of commercial images of women: stubbly armpit hair, or the pink impression sock elastic leaves on white skin. In Blue Poles (2007), a single zit sits between two eyes, dappled with blue glitter. Titled after the iconic Jackson Pollock painting, the work is pretty and carries a low-wattage critique of beauty norms. But soon they lose this grain of commentary: Pop Rocks (2009) is just a woman’s mouth close-up, orgiastic, fellatio-like, on the verge of abstraction. In Drizzle (2010), a model appears with gold paint dripping from her mouth. A mixture of vodka and metallic food coloring create the effect of liquid metal, the wall text informs us. What beauty norm might this critique? It’s not so simple anymore. Instead, the interest of the piece lies in the way gold paint drips from a woman’s mouth—it’s seductive, and silky, and while the pleasure is somewhat sensual and pornographic, the content is just paint meeting body.
Another room features Minter’s recent work in fashion, music, and advertising. A concert backdrop created for Madonna, Green Pink Caviar (2009), features women’s lipsticked mouths that that look like Bukkake anemonies, sucking and spitting up various colorful and slimy substances. The series Plush (2014), commissioned by Playboy, celebrates public hair and the nailpolished female hands that caress it. In an adjacent chamber, a video titled Smash (2014) shows a well-heeled woman’s foot breaking a glass wall. The message is clear—as clear as Hillary Clinton hiring the Javits Center with its glass ceiling for her never-consummated victory party in New York.
I remain uneasy about Minter’s signature work. Sure, she is riffing on Baudelaire’s equation of painting with makeup; at best, it’s decadent and rich, smeary and brushy stuff, with technique that might suggest, to some, a feminist Gerhard Richter. Yet Minter’s project also feels limited. Women are all sexy silver body glitter, goo-sucking lips, and alligator eyes. I like that Minter got “hers,” in the sense of commercial and even critical success, and I respect her political commitment: she doesn’t have to be a great artist to be a good feminist. But her images, at least in this later phase of her career, appear too market-ready, and their large scale reads as expensive, deluxe, and ultimately inoffensive.
Minter seats her viewer squarely in a quintessentially male position of power and erotic surveillance—what Laura Mulvey might have called “the male gaze.” Her relationship to Surrealist photography or historical experimental work is shallow, while its relationship to corporate tie-in culture and art-fair capitalism is profound. I find myself wondering if her empowered woman is too easy to assimilate with the often-violent visual pleasure of patriarchal visual culture and winner-take-all capitalism. Meanwhile, Minter’s earliest work is too dull to spark much interest. Pretty/Dirty is an evolutionary step in thinking about how to make art by women a serious and central part of museum culture. A Year of Yes is doing that subtle work, but the bold, ostentatiously successful, “one-of-the-boys” feminism of Minter’s work provides just one model.