Marilyn Minter at Orange County Museum of Art

Hosted by

Dripping, dribbling, drooling, oozing, streaming, steaming fluids of all sorts cover the paintings and videos of Marilyn Minter in her orgasmic retrospective Pretty Dirty at the Orange County Museum of Art through July 10.

Image Not Available
Marilyn Minter, “Coral Ridge Towers (Mom Smoking Extra Longs),” 1969
Black and white photograph; 16 x 20 inches
Courtesy of Beth Rudin

Minter has taken on representations of femininity and sexuality since the 1970's. In this exhibition, you immediately can glean the source of her enquiry in a series of startling black and white photographs of her Southern belle mother, hair and make-up elaborately complete though lying in bed at the Coral Ridge Towers in Florida.

Minter escaped Florida to complete a master's degree at Syracuse University and made her way to New York City. She gained attention by showing her photorealist-derived paintings in the 80's with East Village galleries. Bill Arning showed her work then at the alternative space White Columns and, now director of the Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston, he has organized her retrospective, along with the Contemporary Art Museum, Denver. This long-term familiarity with the artist and her work makes for rich and rewarding show as well as a warmly thoughtful catalog essay.

After a bout of making collaborative paintings with Christof Kohlhofer, Minter had her initial taste of infamy with paintings of food and porn, the latter widely criticized by feminist writers for pandering to male desire. Minter was a sex-positive feminist in a tut-tut time, when such views were controversial. Rather than retreat from what now might be called “sex shaming,” she went on to delve more deeply into the complexities of sexual representation common to mass media.

Image Not Available
Marilyn Minter, “Glazed,” 2009
Enamel on metal; 96 x 60 inches
Collection of Jeanne Greenberg Rohatyn and Nicolas Rohatyn, New York

For the past fifteen years, especially, Minter has drawn from this calculated provocation in increasingly fascinating and circuitous ways, enlarging, cropping and honing her techniques of painting on a large scale in enamel on metal. After initially working from her own photographs, she transitioned to using standard commercial photographic methods. She isolated close-up details of allure such as open mouths and heavily made-up eyes revealing the artifice of perfection and its impermanence. Globs of mascara clot on lashes, lipstick smears on teeth, make-up runs under hot lights. Minter paints the ways in which women paint themselves and the ways they are painted for fashion, advertising, film. She works with teams of assistants who apply thin layers of enamel color on sheets of metal, finishing the work with the touch of the fingertip.

Image Not Available
Marilyn Minter, “Blue Poles,” 2007
Enamel on metal; 60 x 72 inches
Private collection, London

In 2007, Minter titled her big horizontal painting of a pair of closed eyes, one heavily smudged in turquoise metallic eyeshadow, Blue Poles. She is referring to one of Jackson Pollock's best known works created by pouring liquid paint onto canvas. Minter is pouring, alright, but with a very different goal. Yet, enlarged facial details such as freckles and eyebrows do break apart as splatters, dots and drips.

Image Not Available
Marilyn Minter, “Green Pink Caviar” (still), 2009
HD digital video, 7:45 minutes
Courtesy of the artist, Salon 94, New York, and Regen Projects, Los Angeles

Videos, so often an unhappy afterthought in a painter's exhibition, are particularly relevant here. In Green Pink Caviar, (2009) we watch a huge mouth opening, the lips thick with red gloss, to see a giant tongue lapping up pools of liquefied candy on a sheet of clear glass. Subsequent paintings freeze the action of the bulbous lips, the shimmer of light reflecting on surfaces.

Image Not Available
Marilyn Minter, “Smash” (still), 2014
HD digital video, 7:55 minutes
Courtesy of the artist and Salon 94, New York

A 2014 ghetto-fabulous video Smash features a pair of naked feet with chipped red toenail polish in high-heeled sandals, jeweled chains embellishing the ankles, moving to a slow thumping beat as sheets of silver paint are poured over them. They kick the liquid out of the way and eventually kick through a sheet of clear glass that breaks into shards, splintering amidst the splatters of metallic liquid. The most recent paintings relating to this video are almost entirely covered in patterns and layers of gentle color. Clouds of mist and scrawls of pastel graffiti almost obscure images of a heavily made-up eye or a silver high heel.

This exciting show reveals an artist who has only grown in power and sophistication over the course of a lengthy career. Sweat and saliva signifying sex are saliently satisfied at cinematic scale. Sorry for surfeit of alliteration but this is the sort of response Minter's art can bring about. Why? Because it is all too much and that's a good thing.