83 Grand Street
10am – 6pm, Tuesday – Thursday through April 30, 2011
“This is a perfect opportunity for an audience to see the genesis of the Marilyn Minter paintings that took the world by storm in the 2006 Whitney Biennial. Minter, an overnight sensation (after thirty plus years of showing in New York), has been a mainstay of the downtown scene and this triumphant return to her roots is appropriately taking place in SoHo. This exhibition will present paintings from two bodies of work: the 1986-87 series Big Girls/Little Girls, built from imagery with an almost journalistic remove, alongside works from her 1989 Porn Grids, which capture women and men engaged in what the porn industry refers to as “money shots.” All of these paintings fed off the discourses most dear to the New York art world of the eighties: appropriation, feminism, commodification, and the body.
These early paintings offer surprising insight into the current trajectory of her work, where glamour is suffused with a sinister optimism. Minter reveals the failure of the fashion image in light of blemished reality, with too-close-for-comfort details of dirt, hair, sweat, and pimples. The origins of this practice are on view here, in close-up appropriations of pornography, purposefully stylized within a male-dominated pop idiom. Additionally, the beginnings of her exploration into the worlds of glamour, fashion, and celebrity are seen in Big Girls, paintings which present the buxom Jayne Mansfield and Sophia Loren at a lavish dinner at Romanoff’s in Beverly Hills. These grandiose starlets are paired with the slyly perverse Little Girls, touching memento mori of the loss of innocence. In these pictures, two young girls are reflected and distorted in fun-house mirrors, their bodies contorted, caught in the indefinite passage from adolescence into sexual awareness.
With the porn paintings, Minter further complexified the relationship of her picture making to notions of power and gender. Painted with enamel and later brought into focus by overlaying a ben-day dot pattern, they show close-up portraits of faces, both male and female, servicing erect penises. Minter purposefully allowed the enamel to drip down graphically delivered flesh, recalling the cum shot-like possibilities of her material. Pollock comes to mind as a quotation of expressionist machismo. Splashes of enamel are tossed at the surfaces with a certain risqué abandon, splicing the libidinal action in the imagery with the physical activity of the painting. When they were originally exhibited, Minter came under fire. What inspired the artist, however, was not a desire to generate controversy, but rather to tap into the power that she felt when sourcing pornography in adult shops. She was flirting with a kind of feminism that, in the early 80s, was just beginning to take shape, that of the “pro-sex” feminist.
This exhibition highlights the provocative foundations of Minter’s work, where leering social conceptions of female identity can be usurped, undermined, renegotiated. With these and subsequent works, Minter countered the prevailing feminist discourse, offering a positive look at the traditional place of women in the kitchen and the bedroom, rather than bolstering the negatively charged auras of these positions. Minter has consistently refuted easy reads into the feminist subjectivity of her work, though they may be impossible to escape. What has always been at the core of her production is an examination of the dual commodification of pleasure and desire. She has examined this continuously, with equal measures of raunch and glam, and of rigor and criticality.”