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One Artist Explores the “Pretty/Dirty” Sides of the Feminine

The Orange County Museum of Art presents a four-decade retrospective of American artist Marilyn Minter.

Miss Rosenby Miss Rosen
Artwork: Marilyn Minter. Pop Rocks, 2009 Enamel on metal 108 x 180 inches Collection of Danielle and David Ganek.

The polarities of femininity are vast, seemingly contradictory dualities that encompass the dichotomy of humanity itself. Consider some of the more obvious dualities such as virgin/whore and creator/destroyer, and you will begin to see that there is a deep and compelling desire to divide and conquer the power that inherently lies within the space of femininity.

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American artist Marilyn Minter (n. 1948) understands this duality and fully embraces the aesthetic possibilities. Her earliest works are a study of the creator/destroyer archetype: while in school in 1969, at the age of 21, Minter shot one roll of film of her mother, a drug addict, for a series titled Coral Ridge Towers. This is the starting place for Marilyn Minter: Pretty/Dirty, a new exhibition on view at the Orange County Museum of Art, Newport Beach, CA, now through July 10, 2016.

Marilyn Minter Not in These Shoes, 2013 Enamel on metal 108 x 162 inches Courtesy of the artist, Regen Projects Los Angeles and Salon 94 New York

Marilyn Minter. Not in These Shoes, 2013 Enamel on metal 108 x 162 inches Courtesy of the artist, Regen Projects Los Angeles and Salon 94 New York

Pretty/Dirty features 40 paintings made between 1976 and 2013, along with several video works and photographs that explore the female gaze on the feminine. Many of the works are fused with a feminist critique that is in equal parts provocative, critical, and humorous. The images are familiar yet foreign as they reference and subvert our expectations time and again, calling into question our assumptions about representation: who makes it, for what purpose, and who does it serve?

Consider Minter’s image Big Girls (1986), a two-panel painting that revisits a photograph of Sophia Loren eyeballing Jayne Mansfield’s breasts. In Minter’s rendition, the primary action is marginalized so that what remains is a layering of experiences that confuses, rather than informs, our understanding of their relationship. No longer are they icons or even individuals; here they have been relegated to content that can be arranged as the artist desires.

Marilyn Minter Green Pink Caviar (still), 2009 HD digital video, 7:45 minutes Courtesy of the artist, Salon 94, New York, and Regen Projects, Los Angeles

Marilyn Minter. Green Pink Caviar (still), 2009 HD digital video, 7:45 minutes Courtesy of the artist, Salon 94, New York, and Regen Projects, Los Angeles

The rearrangement of reality is an on-going subject of Minter’s work. As she observed, “I have always been interested in finding that place where it’s not narrative anymore. Narrative tells you what to think. I’m trying to create an image of my truth that other people will look at and say, ‘Oh, that looks real. I know that.’ I just maybe take it a little further.”

In taking it further, Minter invites us to engage with our own contradictory feelings the feminine arouses with us: pride/shame, lust/disgust, admiration/denigration—a whole host of responses whose roots are as humanity itself. In Minter’s work, objects of beauty become altogether too much— makeup no longer serves to enhance, but to call into question our beliefs about beauty itself.


Miss Rosen is a New York-based writer, curator, and brand strategist. There is nothing she adores so much as photography and books. A small part of her wishes she had a proper library, like in the game of Clue. Then she could blaze and write soliloquies to her in and out of print loves.