New York

Marilyn Minter

Max Protetch

In the mid ’80s, Marilyn Minter situated herself among postwar European and American artists who made use of pop images while critiquing pop culture. Often, these critiques were light and off-handed, humorous and generous, rather than cool and parsimonious. The difference between Minter and the Europeans—Sigmar Polke, say—is not simply a matter of age and stature; it has to do with the way each thinks about painting. Polke or Jiri Georg Doukopil, for example, looks back to European history; each is trying to revive what essentially died (call it imagination or culture) in World War II. Minter’s vision is not so grand; she is looking back to the repressive regime of formalist thinking, the lengthy list of dos and don’ts that too many artists still pay homage to.

In Nine New Ways to be a Better Cook, 1989, the subjects are derived from familiar images of women’s domestic activities: hands scaling fish, whisking egg whites, grating cheese, chopping vegetables. The optical colors are bright and saturated, dislocated and dislocating. The text they appeal to is feminism, but they don’t necessarily make bold use of it. The standardized images are presented in a hybrid combination of two styles: Pop art’s use of mechanical reproduction and Abstract Expressionism’s runny rivulets of lush paint. The machine-made and the handmade have been brought together to echo a woman’s repetitive chores and daily habits. It is as if Minter were using her styles and subject matter to comment about painting’s project: is it viable? Is it more than a cultural habit? Can it escape the historical limits that have been imposed upon it?

In a number of other panels, Minter uses dots to depict the image of two dogs copulating. The works depict the reproductive act (the painting’s and the dogs’) as ordinary, mindless, and mechanical. They suggest that all art can be a mindless form of creativity, an instinctual acting out, or a form of subservience, and that art practice is at best a service or at worst a type of prostitution. In the paintings where Minter employs a more mechanical means to arrive at her image, the fields of colored dots and metal rectangles tell the viewer the artist has distanced herself from authorship in a very familiar, post-Modern manner.

An inescapable aspect of the history of art has been the marginalizing of women; a woman can be the subject of a painting, the thinking goes, but not its maker. More recently the belief has surfaced that painting has run its course, that the “last painting” has indeed been done. Minter seems to be hedging the question of whether to strive against these categorical attitudes or to find a way of existing within them. The apparent need to please both sides of the discourse ultimately weakens her work.

John Yau