Marilyn Minter has always been one step ahead of the conversation. The New York– based artist and activist is a prolific creator, whose work both in and out of the studio continues to push boundaries. In the 80s, Minter presented a series of paintings based on hard-core porn imagery that reexamined notions of sexuality and desire. The response was so disparaging, and she was more or less shunned from the art world. Always upping the ante, she powered on to form the sensual style of hyper-realistic photographs, videos, and paintings she’s known for today.
Taking this same brazen spirit beyond the studio, Minter began championing for Planned Parenthood in a response to this summer’s backlash against the organization. Joining forces with pop star Miley Cyrus she’s created a photograph and T-shirt sold at Marc Jacobs, with proceeds benefiting the nonprofit. When we spoke to Minter from her studio in New York, she was equally as passionate about this important cause as she was her decades-long career, which the world will be privy to this winter when her retrospective opens at the Brooklyn Museum, along with a simultaneous solo exhibition at Salon 94. The art world has finally caught up with this forward thinker, today one of the most celebrated artists of our time. And at 67 years old, she’s just getting started.
ISSUE No 6
How would you summarize your visual take on desire, a theme so prevalent in your work?
My work is really about seducing you with craft. With all my work, I want to make a picture of what it feels like to look at glamorous images, which gives most people so much pleasure. And at the same time, you know you’re never going to look like that.
Your work is a nod to the fashion industry and fashion advertising, which have really shaped the conversation around what people think is desirable.
Exactly. In some places, it’s the only way women have ever had any power. But at the same time, women are warping other women, too. It’s such a complicated issue, so I try to have all of that in every image. But I get criticized because I don’t criticize glamour. I don’t criticize it because it gives so much pleasure. Why would I? Who am I? It’s one of the engines that runs our culture. It bugs me that people dismiss it so easily, because there is so much pain and pleasure mixed together.
Your videos and photography are simultaneously sexy, yet can also make people slightly uncomfortable.
Maybe I have a perverse sense of humor. There’s nothing that’s not nuanced. There’s no black and white. It’s gray all the time. So I would locate what I do as something you know, but you’ve never seen a picture of.
So it’s more of a feeling that you have?
Yes, because most of the time, it’s disappointing when your desires get met. That first bite of chocolate is heaven, but the second and third don’t match up.
Your work today is quite different than when you started. Your “porn paintings” in the 80s were condemned and considered anti-feminist. If you presented that body of work today, how would people react?
I would literally be laughed at. “What do you think you’re trying to do? This has been done, done, done.” In the 80s there was a whole feminist movement trying to ban any kind of sexual imagery, pornography. That was the doctrinaire of feminism. It was a form of censorship from the left, which is so startling, especially being that I was such a feminist and such an activist.
So what do you think of the new wave of feminism that’s happening now?
I just love it. I feel like I died and went to heaven. The millennials are so much nicer to one another, the millennial women and men. All of the consciousness-raising is working.
What further dreams do you have for this generation of men and women?
I want to see artists get even stronger. Women are genetically loaded to compete with each other—for the caveman who brought back the most buffalo or something – whereas men learn how to work as a team until they get to the top. What I wanted to happen in my generation—but I only see it happening in yours, and in young women even younger than you— is that you’ll see a writer who you admire. Instead of wanting to kill them off, you tell them how great they are. That drains the poison.
So you have always been a champion of women, and even more so today, by supporting Planned Parenthood. What inspired you to pick them to stand behind?
Revolutions happen when you’re sitting around in your bedroom. I was just watching the news when I was painting, thinking, “I thought this was settled. Roe v. Wade is the law of the land.” Then there was the [Texas Democrat] Wendy Davis thing. We
hadn’t talked about Planned Parenthood being in trouble in years. I was passionate about it because I’m 67 years old and I remember when…one of my closest friends had to go to Mexico all by herself. This was back in the 60s. There are all these horror
stories. I thought, “Are we going back to this?” I just couldn’t believe it.
So you started creating work to help the organization?
I did a charity event with Kiehl’s. They ask artists to do things, and most donate to children’s charities. I decided my charity was going to be Planned Parenthood. My day rate is $25,000, so I donated the $25,000 to Planned Parenthood. Then we were getting press. We made these bags to sell for $20,
and they sold out. Then Lena Dunham, who I’ve known since she was nine years old, said she would take them on her book tour and sell at the table.
Most of the time, it’s disappointing when your desires get met.
How did you team up with Miley Cyrus?
It was serendipitous. I was at a party, and her friend and collaborator Diane Martel was there and she FaceTimed her right there. Miley said, “I’m onboard. Are you kidding? This is a perfect thing for me to promote.” This is somebody who has been famoussince she was ten. She has more money than anyone, so she is not doing anything for money. She is very talented and very smart, and says, “I’m going to do service.”
What has it been like to work with her?
She is delightful. We’re just taking our cue from the marriage equality movement, which rapidly turned the culture. No one is standing up for Planned Parenthood. Miley is one of the few. Marc Jacobs is the only women’s brand. But I know their hearts are there. I know they want to.
It’s amazing to have people like you and Miley, who are in the pop culture zeitgeist, getting the message out in a way that’s digestible for people.
I’m a flea next to her 43 million [Instagram followers]. We sold out the first run of T-shirts. That’s not because of me, trust me. I’m an old lady. This is somebody who speaks to kids. Have you ever met anyone pro-life? I’ve never met anyone.
I don’t think I have, which is weird.
We’re in the bubble.
Do you hope that through your work, the conversation will change?
No, they’re pretty separate. To make paintings or videos… I made a cool video with Miley, I guess you could consider that art. I don’t think the T-shirt is art. It’s really altruistic. It’s actually my downtime project. But it’s not like I don’t enjoy it. It makes me feel like I’m making a difference a little bit… which is why I ask everybody to make a little bit of a difference.