Engines of Culture
“They’re really just images that everybody knows—everything I paint, everything I do. It’s just nobody’s ever made a picture of it before. Other than medical textbooks, there aren’t any pictures of pimples, but we all know them. We all know what armpit hair looks like growing in. We all know what it looks like to have freckles, but they’re Photoshopped out. So when I was working on that, back ten years ago, I was just erasing the Photoshop. I think the eye craves what it doesn’t see—like this last body of work, in my painting show [at Salon 94] and in the Brooklyn Museum show, too, it’s pubic hair. Pubic hair has been erased from the culture, so I wanted to make a case to women: Shave all you want, groom all you want, make topiary out of it—but don’t laser because fashion is fleeting and laser is forever. I tried to make the most beautiful pictures of pubic hair. You could put these in your living room, they’re so beautiful!” [Marilyn Minter in conversation with Laura Regensdorf]
The Postmodern landscape still runs through Modernism’s processes. De Kooning’s Gordian solution to the problem of figuration in Modern abstraction is still the best and only answer – but there have been upgrades. Today ambitious painters use the extreme close up [something we experience in television and movies nearly every day] which makes figures into even more of a Modern Landscape – less recognizable, more ambiguous and more visually tactile. Our electronic culture exults and mythologizes the power of these kinds of lens-based images. The Modern Era was started with them and changed by them, and the Postmodern Era traffics almost exclusively in them.
Frank Stella’s original idea of “what you see is what you see” has now become “the eye craves what it doesn’t see.” And Marilyn is right. The reductive Greenbergian theoretics employed by Stella in his early works leaves out the primitive human experience driving the history painting – desire. And so much of our Postmodern Era has been about the way images and desires form us, create us and use us – the advertising image, the fashion image, and even the pornographic image. There’s a three part process involved in understanding these kinds of abstracted visions. First there’s our desire for the eye to see what it doesn’t see. We are tempted, we become involved. Second is the understanding promised by the image – a personal fulfillment, narrative or mythology of some subjective experience. Third is the economics built into our desire for the mythological image – it must be processed and possessed. Ambiguity becomes certainty. The transaction is complete.
“That’s been my vision: my critique is that I don’t criticise! Everything is too complicated. I just try to make a picture of what is. I know that a lot of my pictures give people an enormous amount of pleasure, but at the same time the subjects are considered shallow and unimportant. They are dismissed and debased by the culture.
Fashion and glamour give people so much pleasure even though fashion is also very dangerous: it distorts women and it is problematic because of eating disorders and cruelty towards women, and women picking on other women. But at the same time it gives women a real power in the world. It’s a billion-dollar industry, and it’s one of the engines of culture. It’s how everybody sees who the rest of their tribe is. Even if you don’t care at all about how you present yourself, that’s a tribe too. It’s a constant paradox. It’s the same paradox with pornography. It’s considered so contemptible, but it is another engine of culture. There would be no Internet without pornography. You can take abuse imagery and reclaim it for your own pleasure. I don’t consider it as porn at all. But women working with any kind of sexuality seem to really frighten people, especially if they are young and beautiful. That’s terrifying. I feel it’s a big mistake for artists to not shine a light on this. I don’t understand why more people aren’t doing it.” [Marilyn Minter in conversation with Robert Ayers]