Marilyn Minter received her first retrospective, Marilyn Minter: Pretty/Dirty, at the Brooklyn Museum earlier this year. It surveyed a career that arcs, with unflinching momentum, from the late 1960s to the present day, and cast the American artist into the spotlight and under the favourable gaze of a new generation of feminists. The show fell under the umbrella of the museum’s A Year of Yes: Reimagining Feminism program, a series of exhibitions and events designed to amplify the idea of feminism as an agent for progressive thinking and change. Minter has long subscribed to this mode of thought.
Her exhibition coincided with the US election, and on the eve of Trump’s inauguration in January, Minter appeared in a panel discussion at the Brooklyn Museum alongside Madonna—the two had collaborated on a video piece, Pink Green Caviar, for the singer’s 2008 Sticky & Sweet Tour. The pair spoke about activism, art and their plans for the following day: heading to Washington for the Women’s March; probably catching the coach. Off-canvas, Minter has often campaigned for gender equality and reproductive rights. In 2015, she collaborated with Miley Cyrus to support Planned Parenthood—which proved to be its most successful benefit auction to date. This same drive and energy is inherent in her artwork.
Minter is famous for her hyperreal paintings, photographs and videos that riff on fashion editorials, advertising and popular culture. Her aesthetic is distinctive, mesmeric and confronting—saturated colours; a fluid, sometimes gauzy, finish; subjects often wet-looking. Her take on the male gaze highlights its absurdity. She relishes perceived flaws in her subjects, rendering them in vivid, visceral detail—from sweat to zits to stubbly armpits. Her latest series of paintings depict female nudes behind glass—all is steamy as if straight from the shower. Almost abstract but unequivocally erotic, the series stemmed from the time when, in 2014, Minter responded to a commission for Playboy where she photographed models with natural pubic hair. The magazine rejected this editorial, which was instead picked up and published as a book, Plush, by Fulton Ryder, before later lending itself to this new suite of paintings.
Provocation and sensuality have been mainstays of Minter’s work throughout her career, but she hasn’t always been lauded for it. In 1989, she used pornographic imagery as source material for her series Porn Grid and was swiftly labelled anti-feminist by her peers and the press. Never feeling fully accepted by her generation, she nonetheless held true to her instincts and proved her avant-gardism. Her series of Food Porn paintings from 1990 precurses the rise of foodie culture by two decades.
For all the political commentary surrounding Minter’s work, the artist herself does not seek to make statements. “The artists that I’m interested in,” she described to The New York Times in a recent interview, “are the ones that make a picture of the times they live in. If you can listen to that inner voice, you’ll be fine. If you make your work from love, you’ll be fine. Just don’t try to fit in to the prevalent movement.”