Artscapes: Artist Marilyn Minter is Pretty Dirty

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MarilynMinter_BallouBunnyArtist Marilyn Minter has a way of making viewers feel both pretty and dirty, disgusted and mesmerized. Those emotions are on display in “Marilyn Minter: Pretty/Dirty” at the Orange County Museum of Arts in Newport Center through July 10.

This is the exhibition’s only West Coast stop, and offers apt and ironic commentary on the ideologies that Newport Beach is famous for: obsession with glamour, beauty and perfection.

“The power of Minter’s work is that it always resonates on two levels: surface and depth. She is keenly aware of the power of the image to entice and titillate, but she never lets us stop with just those reactions,” said OCMA Director and CEO Todd Smith. “She always makes us dig deeper into the social and personal underpinnings of why we experience the luscious imagery the way we do.”

As noted on the entry wall to the exhibition, “Marilyn Minter began her career as a young artistMarilyn Minter_Blue Poles-new (1) exploring her domestic landscape. She evolved into a media-savvy cultural producer whose images both define and critique our times. Minter’s seductive, visual statements demand attention, while at the same time she never shirks from her role as provocateur, critic, and humorist. This retrospective follow’s Minter’s work as a painter and photographer, demonstrating the evolution of her style and technique. The exhibition features painting, videos, and photographs made between 1969 and 2015, showcasing the full range of Minter’s work.”

5Minter, who lives in New York, was in town for the OCMA opening, and sat down for a quick interview with NB Indy editor Christopher Trela and columnist Shelly Zavala. She talked about her artistic struggle for acceptance, her perception of culture, and her favorite video in her show, “Smash,” in which large female feet in bejeweled high-heeled shoes are dancing, sliding across the floor, and smashing glass—all in Minter’s signature silver liquid.

 NB Indy: That video, “Smash,” is fascinating, even compelling, to watch. minter1

 Marilyn Minter: It was a commission from the Brooklyn Museum. I wanted it to be mesmerizing.  Brooklyn commissioned famous photographers and video makers, so I knew they would be professional and slick, the opposite of what I wanted to do. I wanted to do an anti-fashion video. I got a 230-pound dancer, who used to be Beyonce’s backup dancer, she has a troupe of all big girl dancers. I had to reinforce her shoes, put sandpaper on the bottom, got her to make acrylic nails on her toes, and then chipped them. I glued dog hair to the bottom of her foot. I did not tell the Brooklyn Museum, they wanted something glamorous but I just wanted to make an anti-glamour video. My whole work is about the way it feels to look—looking at glamourous things gives you a lot of pleasure, but at the same time you’ll never look like that, so there is some self-hatred involved, and it’s gotten to the point where it’s embarrassing. The fashion industry has distorted reality.

minter2NB Indy: That’s particularly prevalent in Newport Beach.

 Marilyn Minter: I’ve never seen anything like it in my life. I can see the rivalry that must ensue here, it’s so unhealthy. I don’t blame anyone, I blame the culture. We’re a product of our culture. I am not ever criticizing…I want people to feel good about themselves. Fashion and glamour are powerful engines for our culture. I’m interested in the engines of the culture that we’re trying to hide.”

 NB Indy: How does it feel, for you, to put yourself out there as an artist and be so raw.

 Marilyn Minter: I did not know I was putting myself out there, I just knew I had to make these things. I had no choice in theminter4 matter. When I got a bad reaction, I was devastated. I also learned the cliché, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Now, everyone loves it, but I had some bad years, I could not get arrested, could not get a gallery, nothing, but I knew I was doing something interesting.

 On Sunday, June 26 at 3 p.m., OCMA presents “Art, Food, and Appetite: A Conversation with Jenni Sorkin and Alison Pearlman inspired by Marilyn Minter: Pretty/Dirty.” This free event (with paid admission) features acclaimed critics and art historians discussing Marilyn Minter’s art relative to feminism, sensuality, and current food trends. The talk will be accompanied by specially designed food tastings created by local chefs.

OCMA is open Wednesday – Sunday, 11 a.m. – 5 p.m., with extended hours Friday, 11 a.m. – 8 p.m. Admission is $10 for adults and seniors, $7.50 for students. Fridays are free to the public. OCMA is at 850 San Clemente Dr. For additional information, call (949) 759-1122 or visit

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