New York

Marilyn Minter

Xavier Laboulbenne Gallery

In Marilyn Minter’s new paintings “cosmetics” is the metaphorical terrain on which feminist interests (the representation of women, the topos of “the beauty myth”) and pictorial questions intersect. But more conspicuous are the issues concerning these works’ structure as paintings. Is “painting” a verb or a noun, a way of doing or a way of seeing things? The debate is joined by two works from 1996. In Dye-Job a woman’s head, cloaked in deep shadow à la Eugene Carrière, looks downward as a blue-handled brush comes in from the upper left to magically paint a swathe of her hair bright blonde. The beautician’s brush appears to add color to a substratum of form, but this glow is really that of an entirely different substance. In Vamp, by contrast, our attention is drawn to the surface of the painting, which seems to correspond, with its glinting, wavering effects of reflection, to that of a mirror within the picture; consequently, the viewer is positioned as if facing a reflected image in the painting or, perhaps, as if the viewer were the reflection of the person in the painting. A long electric-blue fingernail pulls back a black-lipsticked lip to observe, through an eye pressed back into the upper-left corner of the painting, the whiteness of her gleaming teeth: with awareness of the perceptual organ squeezed out to the periphery, the viewed self takes on a fascinating, bizarrely distorted aspect.

Whether painting is above all the brush that transforms while pretending to highlight or the contemplative surface that distorts what it claims to reflect, the distinction between representing and producing a reality, or perhaps between representing and undoing one, is dissolved. That’s why, in the paintings here dated 1997, depiction so often verges on the grotesque, or rather touches on moments of near-grotesquerie within a seduction toward beauty. (Similarly, Minter’s abandonment of the pornographic imagery she once favored has made room in her work for a form of obscenity that is no more than insinuated.) This tendency is most obvious in finger-toes, 1997, where what seems to be a compare/contrast juxtaposition of fingers and toes displaying their nail polish takes on a perturbing eerieness. Despite the noticeable “cut” between the two sides of the painting that calls attention to the implicit collaging of the underlying images, Minter’s luscious color and juicy handling of her shiny, fluid-looking enamel paint overpower the purely referential aspect of her transcription of these beauty-magazine images to a degree that they become easy to “see” but hard to “read.” As a result, the strangeness of the sight is greater than can be conjured away by the obvious explanation for it; there’s no shrugging off the sensation that the image contains no toes at all but just fingers somehow becoming repulsively distorted. All the more disturbing, then, that this monstrosity should be displayed like an advertisement for beauty— that it is, in fact, beautiful.

Barry Schwabsky