interview by GLENN O’BRIEN
portraits by MARCELO KRASILCIC
Marilyn Minter will be on exhibit at Regan Projects in Los Angeles April 6 through May 11, 2013. In New York, she is represented by Salon 94.
Marilyn Minter is a powerhouse of a painter, photographer and filmmaker. She started out brave and never looked back. She was part of a generation that had a painterly sensibility and a punk attitude, and she did her own wild thing. Being a woman didn’t stop her from making art that had balls (and other things considered unsightly by a bizarrely prudish art establishment). But even the shocked and horrified reactions of the art world didn’t stop her. She kept going and let the audience, institutions and collectors catch up. By the time they did, she had developed a powerful vision of glamour and sexuality, degradation and triumph, dirt and luminescence that would haunt them. Marilyn is cool. Her work is hot. It speaks eloquently to a world obsessed with eros and luxury. Wet, wild, glittering, glimmering, a little too made-up, powdered and rouged, jacked up on high heels, frenzied, flagrant, sticky, ecstatic, elastic … that’s how she rolls. “For now we see through a glass, darkly,” it was said in 1 Corinthians 13:12, referring to revelations yet to come. But with Minter we see through a glass glowing eerily and then another and another layer of glass and layers of ambiguous liquid, bodily fluid and precious metal and steam and spray-paint, addressing the countless laminae of images surrounding us, bombarding us, luring and repelling, testing and transforming us.
Minter lived in New York during a hothouse period, when fleurs du mal got trampled and hybrids of alluring strangeness emerged where least expected. Through time she dragged her dream into the eternal now, where everything is bigger, better, hotter, and wetter than before, and she reveals to you the tantalizing and terrible desire-demons, monsters from the id of planet gorgeous.
GLENN O’BRIEN — How did you become an artist?
MARILYN MINTER — I could always draw, I could copy anything [laughs]. I even got put in jail at 16.
GLENN O’BRIEN — For what?
MARILYN MINTER — Forging people’s driver’s licenses. This was before lamination…
GLENN O’BRIEN — I used to make driver’s licenses, too… When I was at college I made fake IDs. I was very good with graphics, and I used press type.
MARILYN MINTER — See, I didn’t do press type. I actually could draw typewriter letters. I could draw perfect typewriter letters. You would send me five dollars, and I would mail it back. This was in high school. It was a scandal.
GLENN O’BRIEN — So those were your first artworks, then.
MARILYN MINTER — Yeah, they really were actually. I wish I had one, because they were really good. And it was easy for me. It came real easy. I could copy anything. I always could.
GLENN O’BRIEN — How did you get caught? Did somebody turn you in?
MARILYN MINTER — Oh, no. I had braces on my teeth. My driver’s license said I was some forgotten number, because I changed the eight to the three, and I was walking out of a liquor store with all my friends waiting for me in a car, and a cop stopped me and kept asking me how old I was. I kept saying, 21, and my driver’s license said I was 23 or something. I don’t remember … I am obviously terrible with numbers.
GLENN O’BRIEN — You should know what age you’re supposed to be…
MARILYN MINTER — Yeah. They said, “Whose driver’s license?” I kept saying, “It’s mine; it’s all true.” So then they decided to put me in jail because then I’d tell the truth. It was a scandal. It was in high school in Florida … I don’t mind talking about that or being clean, and I don’t mind talking about my mother the drug addict. Look at my work; look at my mother; look at the pictures of my mother. Did you ever see them? A lot of people say this is my first artwork. These photos I took when I was a junior in college.
GLENN O’BRIEN — You turned these in for a project, right?
MARILYN MINTER — Well, I just showed my proof sheets to the teacher and the other students. They were horrified by these pictures. “Oh my God, that’s your mother?” Up until that moment, I didn’t realize how strange it was… Still today, my brothers and I look at these pictures and we don’t see what you see.
GLENN O’BRIEN — It’s very kind of Sunset Boulevard, because she looks very glamorous…
MARILYN MINTER — She used to be a beauty.
GLENN O’BRIEN — Yeah, she looks like a faded beauty.
MARILYN MINTER — She pulled out her hair, so she wore wigs. That’s her in a wig. She was always in a negligee, always smoking. I drove her car to school. Once in a while, she’d get out of bed, then she’d go back to bed for days. Here she is dyeing her eyebrows. But she was so fucked up that she would wear acrylic nails, but she wouldn’t clean them, so she’d get some kind of … fungus. It was all fucked-up. I really didn’t put two and two together about my work until maybe 20 years later, after I took these pictures. But it seems like that is the progenitor of everything I’ve been doing.
GLENN O’BRIEN — Were these the first photographs that you took?
MARILYN MINTER — No, they weren’t my first photos, but I was a beginning photo student. I used a medium-format camera, and a roll only had 12 frames. Every one of the pictures from that roll came out. How often does that happen? It’s so interesting, because when I did this real hard-core sex series in 1989, I was criticized for them.
GLENN O’BRIEN — Right.
MARILYN MINTER — And in 1995 when I showed the pictures of my mother, I got let back in. I think that the culture trusts the artists that come from dysfunction. Somehow this legitimizes the work. So I did this in 1989. Hardly anybody was dealing with hard-core pornography. I was trying to make a case for pro-sex feminism, and…
GLENN O’BRIEN — There was Lynda Benglis and all…
MARILYN MINTER — She was much earlier, ‘69.
GLENN O’BRIEN — So were those people, like Hannah Wilke and Lynda Benglis, out at that point?
MARILYN MINTER — There were earlier female artists dealing with sexuality, like Lynda Benglis, Carolee Schneemann, and I recently found out about the wonderful Betty Tompkins, who was actually way more graphic than all of us! It was a very small group. Lynda, Carolee and I were in shows together during this time. We were a small group of pro-sex feminist artists — it was a nascent movement… Most of our support was from the gay community. Carole Vance put together Pleasure and Danger, and the lesbian community had On Our Backs, Susie Bright’s magazine
GLENN O’BRIEN — Oh, yeah. I remember that.
MARILYN MINTER — It was really nascent. But at the time, I just assumed everybody thought like me. I had no idea what would happen, that it would have this kind of reaction… I was just making my work. What made me think of doing that in the first place was Mike Kelley.
GLENN O’BRIEN — Really?
MARILYN MINTER — You wonder how that could happen, right? I saw his show at Metro Pictures. He had these stuffed animal sculptures and stuffed animal paintings, and he had these banners made out of felt, high school banners, and he had this bureau drawer with decoupage eyes and decoupage lips, almost like miming a 13-year-old girl and what her bedroom would look like, stuffed animal sculptures, and here he is, this brilliant intellectual from L.A. I thought, “Wow, he’s miming something that’s considered debased, like a little girl…” This was like something that everybody sort of made fun of, “Oh, you’re scared like a little girl,” or “What are you, a little girl?” I thought, He’s deconstructing a 13-year-old girl mindset… If a woman artist had made that work, I don’t think she would have gotten any attention.
GLENN O’BRIEN — Yeah, it might have gotten a negative reaction.
MARILYN MINTER — Yeah, so I thought, “Well, then, I have to do the reverse. What is it that female artists have never touched?” And I thought hard-core porn. Because I knew there was soft-core porn. So I thought, “Well, I’ll do cum-shots.” That was in the first wave of feminism, which was still very frightened by sexual imagery, and I had sort of worked my way through that and thought women should create their own images for their own pleasure. Then I had this idea that nobody has politically correct fantasies. But I wasn’t trying to turn people on. I was just trying to own sexual imagery. Does it change the meaning? I was trying to recapture those images from an abusive culture. As Caitlin Moran says, “When you look at porn, and everybody’s looking like they’re having a good time, that’s good porn.” It’s just that porn was always directed for guys, so it was like this six minutes, you know, or whatever it takes… I wanted women to make images for their own pleasure. I didn’t want to be one of them! [laughs] Because I just wanted to make art. I wanted to make a picture of what’s there, the world we live in. In everything I appropriated, the people are having a good time. I think it threatened some first-wave feminists at the time, and I was denounced as a traitor. But then my side won, so… [laughs]
GLENN O’BRIEN — Feminist artists denounced you?
MARILYN MINTER — Oh, yeah. Mostly feminists who came from a place of fear. I understood that. You know the Andrea Dworkin crowd…
GLENN O’BRIEN — Really?
MARILYN MINTER — Yeah. My dealer closed my show a week early, because he was given such a hard time.
GLENN O’BRIEN — When did Cindy Sherman do those prosthetics and stuff?
MARILYN MINTER — Right at the same time.
GLENN O’BRIEN — Was that considered incorrect?
MARILYN MINTER — No, because in her work sex was demonized, and mine was about pleasure. So she was embraced. I didn’t know she was doing it. I got compared to her, which was my worst nightmare, because she was my idol. I got compared to her in The Village Voice by Elizabeth Hess.
GLENN O’BRIEN — Cindy wasn’t hatin’ on you, was she?
MARILYN MINTER — Not at all. No. She’s always been very supportive.
GLENN O’BRIEN — Because I can see critics doing it, but other artists, I don’t know…
MARILYN MINTER — That’s why I survived, because I had… Cady Noland was on my side, and Larry Clark, Jack Pierson, and Jessica Stockholder. Other artists were totally with me. What I found out is that when it comes to sexual imagery even the most enlightened people can become paralyzed.
GLENN O’BRIEN — What about Guerrilla Girls?
MARILYN MINTER — They were probably mixed. Because this was the high point of political correctness. Take Back The Night marches. Women hated pornography. Some women hated pornography, some hated men. There was that whole idea of what’s-her-name, Wolf…
GLENN O’BRIEN — Naomi Wolf.
MARILYN MINTER — Naomi Wolf saying, “Guys watch the Super Bowl and then beat up their spouses.” You know women as victims that have to be protected. There are elements of truth to that, too. It’s very complicated. So there was lots of fear. I understood where it was all coming from, but still I was so surprised that more people didn’t think like me.
GLENN O’BRIEN — It’s hard to even understand now.
MARILYN MINTER — But there’s still a huge glass ceiling. Look at how people hate on Tracey Emin, or hate on Laurel Nakadate. Women just aren’t allowed by our culture to use sexual imagery in their art until they are old ladies! Then it’s OK. Everyone loves that work now that I’m 64. Everyone loves Betty Tompkins now. Dorothy Iannone just had a show at the New Museum. What’s that all about? I hate sexism. I hate racism. I hate homophobia. And I hate political correctness. [laughs] I hate all of those things.
GLENN O’BRIEN — The ironic part is that… You were talking about getting slammed in The Village Voice, the big arbiter of political correctness. That was a publication that was almost entirely supported by massage parlor ads and escort services.
MARILYN MINTER — I know. Isn’t that funny. And my support system was gay men and gay women, and a handful of straight women. Remember Jan Avgikos and Deborah Dreyer?
GLENN O’BRIEN — Oh, yeah. I remember Jan from Art Forum. She was brilliant.
MARILYN MINTER — And Pat Herr. We were all in a reading group together. Didn’t you work on the sex book with Madonna?
GLENN O’BRIEN — I love that book actually. It is so brave and funny.
MARILYN MINTER — Yeah. That’s when I really wanted to meet you. Then I read Bob Colacello’s book, and you were all over that. I came to New York because I worshiped Warhol. When everybody else was into Haight-Ashbury and getting stoned, I did speed and listened to the Velvet Underground and wanted to come to NYC [laughs]. But I had this [SHIFTS ACCENT] thick Suth’uhn axe-cent; I tawked lahk thi-is.”
GLENN O’BRIEN — Well, Andy was really politically incorrect.
MARILYN MINTER — I know.
GLENN O’BRIEN — He got it a lot.
MARILYN MINTER — Yeah. But he also said a lot of things he didn’t mean.
GLENN O’BRIEN — Yeah. He was the devil’s advocate. He had levels of irony that went beyond anything before.
MARILYN MINTER — He was the beginning of what it was like… I mean, that was really when we found out what paparazzi were. You knew Edie and everybody.
GLENN O’BRIEN — No, I didn’t know Edie. Edie was gone. I came in 1970, and Edie had moved out West and gotten big fake tits…
MARILYN MINTER — Was she intelligent?
GLENN O’BRIEN — Sure, but I think that she was brain-damaged at that point. I never met her. I met all the other ones. That was a tough time to be coming up. There were a lot of casualties. I used to think that I missed all the incredible stuff around Andy in the late ‘60s, but then I realized that maybe my late arrival was the reason I’m still around.
MARILYN MINTER — But that generation, I cut them a lot of slack because they’ve contributed to history. My recognition started relatively late. The Art World loves old ladies and bad boys. Old ladies and young bad boys.
GLENN O’BRIEN — My life has been much better in the second half.
MARILYN MINTER — God, my first half was a disaster! The second half has been heavenly.
GLENN O’BRIEN — Well, that messed-up first half … we were doing research.
MARILYN MINTER — [laughs] So your brain’s not gone.
GLENN O’BRIEN — No, I never took speed. Let’s talk about painting. Because I think a lot of people think you’re a photographer.
MARILYN MINTER — Isn’t that wild?
GLENN O’BRIEN — Is that what you did first, or did you paint first?
MARILYN MINTER — I always shot photographs. But I really made my reputation as an artist, as a painter. But now I do all three — photography, video, and painting. These are my photographs, behind you, and those are film, believe it or not.
GLENN O’BRIEN — I believe it.
MARILYN MINTER — Yeah. Except some of them are… The really big ones are ink jet blown-up references for the paintings. Those are the photos for the series you’re looking at now.
GLENN O’BRIEN — The photos you don’t manipulate.
MARILYN MINTER — No, I just print them, I don’t even crop… They’re like drawings for traditional artists. On the other hand I make ALL the paintings in Photoshop from different negatives. Sometimes as many as 80 layers of Photoshop or more. And, of course, during the painting process I change the image, like I decided to draw drips on top of this painting today, basically adding another layer. That painting is going to be in my show at Regen Projects in April, pretty much everything you see in here is going there. In the imagery that I’m doing now, I’m not even using human beings any more. I’m taking my old photos, like this one, and putting them behind a piece of glass, and I’m breaking the glass… And I have a graffiti artist. Matt, raise your hand. Matt draws graffiti on it, That’s going to be that painting, that eye. Do you see it? You’re really seeing the whole process of a painting here.
GLENN O’BRIEN — I think people would be shocked if they saw how much process there is, how many layers.
MARILYN MINTER — This is what we drew up, the reference, and this is what we’re painting. (I say WE because I have help now!). See, I’m going to take some of this in and out. I want it all in when I draw it on the support, and then I’ll take it out when I’m painting it. I paint, too, I just love to paint, but my main job is to be the image-creator, to do the references. The paintings take so long that I have to be a year and a half ahead of my studio
GLENN O’BRIEN — So how did you get on to Photoshop?
MARILYN MINTER — As soon as it came out. Well, I’ve always worked from a source. I shoot digital but I love film. I think maybe I’m better in film because the cameras are much lighter. I guess I still love grain and the color quality. I’ve been painting from my own photos for years. See that crack — I put it in after the whole first layer was finished. I put the crack on top; I just faked it. There is an image there, but the glass on top is what I concentrate on. So I’m not painting body parts or objects anymore. I’m just painting broken glass, sometimes with graffiti on it… to reference old billboards and phone booths and ads all over the world.
GLENN O’BRIEN — I was thinking about Nan Goldin saying that digital ruined everything. Was Nan ever politically incorrect? I mean, did she ever get that kind of reaction to her work?
MARILYN MINTER — She may have shocked her audience, but I suspect it’s because her work is so raw.
GLENN O’BRIEN — I want to know about how you started painting.
MARILYN MINTER — I started painting when I was about 12 years old. Terrible self-taught paintings about social issues. When I was a freshman in collage I had to take a painting class. The University of Florida was deeply invested in abstract expressionism in the late ’60s. It was very provincial. If you didn’t paint like de Kooning you were not a “real” artist. In my first painting class we were supposed to just start painting on blank canvas. No still life, no model. Absolutely no direction about color or what oil paint does, nothing about sources or nature. Studying art magazines and looking at popular culture, I sort of figured out that I wanted to work like Warhol, even that first year. But I wasn’t very good, and I didn’t work from references, really good ones, I just made up cartoon stuff and I got a C in painting. But I got an A in photography. So I decided to major in photography!
GLENN O’BRIEN — That’s a good reason.
MARILYN MINTER — Then by the time I was a junior, I had to take another painting class to graduate, and that’s the class where we started working from subject matter and learned about applying paint on top of dried paint. I actually was pretty good at it. I knew I could copy anything by drawing. So it wasn’t that hard to translate that into painting. Then, when I applied to graduate school, I was the only one who wanted to go to New York. Everyone I went to school with applied to schools on the West Coast. That’s where all the laid back/hippie culture seemed to be. I knew I wanted to go where Warhol was. I’d never been up north. I’d never even seen snow. I was too scared to go straight to NYC even though I got into Pratt. I also got into Syracuse with a scholarship and that was close enough for me. I went from never seeing snow to 156 inches the first year. James Harithas was the head of the Everson Museum. You might not know who he is now, but he was a true radical in the ’70s. He started the first Video program in a museum. He made David Ross the head of it. He gave shows to Yoko Ono, Joan Mitchell, Elaine Sturtevant. And unbelievably, he gave me a one-person show at the Everson Museum just after I got out of graduate school. He encouraged me to go to NYC. He was a mentor of sorts. I was married at the time. We saved our money, and we came down here in 1976, and moved to a loft in Soho. We had choices of places in ‘76. And Jerry Saltz worked at this gallery on the corner of West Broadway and Spring. He worked with Nicholas Krushenick’s wife. Nicholas Krushenick was the first famous artist I ever got to know. He was my neighbor. I own one now. I bought one a few years ago. I thought he was so good, even then.
GLENN O’BRIEN — Well, New York then was all refugees. The weirdest kid from every high school. If you were gay or weird, you’d move to New York.
MARILYN MINTER — Yeah. I didn’t fit in at all in the south. I was so “anti- .” I worked in the civil rights and anti-war movements, and one of my boyfriends was in SDS. I married a guy who was a “Vietnam Veteran Against The War” and … I was just from another planet. I came to the city and went wild! I divorced my husband. And got into drugs and alcohol, and partied real hard. Anyway, I basically ended up in two rehabs, and I got clean and sober in 1985. I hung out in the East Village and I had a couple of shows with Gracie Mansion as the collaboration team of “Kohlhofer/Minter.” It was me and a German artist named Christof Kohlhofer. We made image sandwiches, we were painting right on top of each other. You know the old artist ego? Of course we fought a lot. Then I got clean and sober and we broke up. I now had to make work without drugs (for the fist time in years) and something that didn’t look anything like our collaboration. I floundered a bit, but as soon as I started working in enamel paint everything fell into place. In 1986 I was offered a one-person show at White Columns. Then around 10 galleries made me an offer. Team Gallery in Soho showed my early work last year.
GLENN O’BRIEN — I loved that show. You were so ahead of your time.
MARILYN MINTER — Maybe that’s safer. I’m better equipped to handle success now.
GLENN O’BRIEN — Me too. But it’s weird because now all I do is work. It’s crazy.
MARILYN MINTER — I’ve never had more demands on me.
GLENN O’BRIEN — Me too. I didn’t make much money for years, so I still find it hard to say no to a job or… I say, “Oh, OK, I’ll do it.”
MARILYN MINTER — Well, I’m being told that I have to say no to everything now. Literally, they’re making me … my gallery is saying no to everything.
GLENN O’BRIEN — If you get too big, then they want to knock you down.
MARILYN MINTER — I’m not getting too big.
GLENN O’BRIEN — It’s the whole cycle of fame in America. You get too big and they knock you down.
MARILYN MINTER — Yeah, you know more than anybody. I’ve always been slightly marginalized, which I don’t mind.
GLENN O’BRIEN — It’s good to be on the cusp, on the verge.
MARILYN MINTER — I know that. I’ve always known that. But I’m not doing it on purpose. It’s just this is where I ended up. But I feel like that way, if you’re slightly marginalized, you don’t get caught up in the machine of white heat, because no one can survive it. I love the way Gober has his career, or Bruce Nauman’s career. Slightly marginalized, enough to keep going. But who can survive the white heat? Who does? Anyone?
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