Critics’ Picks

Marilyn Minter, Big Mouth, 2017, enamel on metal, 8 x 13'.

Marilyn Minter, Big Mouth, 2017, enamel on metal, 8 x 13'.

Los Angeles

Marilyn Minter

Regen Projects
6750 Santa Monica Blvd
May 19–June 23, 2018

Marilyn Minter’s new body of paintings, photographs, and videos seeks to subvert the classic image of the bather by shrouding it in steam. She succeeds, less by drawing our attention to the surface of the image—a strategy perfected by Degas—than by reaching back to Ingres and the tradition of Orientalist painting. It’s a leapfrog over the twentieth century that slaps sex back into the tableau.

Degas neutralized flesh in a series of unimpassioned notations, an economizing retort to centuries of voluptuousness; Minter answers by fogging the mirror. In Big Mouth, 2017, gigantic pink lips hover in an extreme close-up with beads of condensation gently exhaled onto the surface of the picture. In Steam 1 and Steam 3, both 2018, nipples are the focal point; in Cornucopia, 2018, it’s a tangle of dark pubic hair against milky skin. Each painting veils the bather in a dewy slick of droplets. It’s easy viewing. Yet this scopic pleasure may not be entirely redeemed by the sheer force of Minter’s feminist insistence. My Cuntry, ’Tis of Thee, 2018, a neon-drenched video in which women trace activist phrases onto a sheet of frosted glass, makes Minter’s politics explicit, but an exclamation by the artist at the press preview (“Asians have straight pubic hair! Who knew?”) belied the familiar whiff of Orientalism that marred so many otherwise flawless bodies in the Turkish bath scenes of nineteenth-century painting. Put differently: Though Minter’s canvases feature brown and white bodies alike, their mode of representation draws a distinct tension across their frothy surfaces. Flesh covers sheets of metal, and you’re never quite sure if what you see is steam or frost. Each work has this palpable but indecipherable dissonance at its core, needling us with suspicion just as we’re about to sink into the bath.