Images of Ambivalence: Fashion/Art, Photography/Painting - by Rebecca Lossin

If one is to see the world in a grain  of sand, one must first see the sand‚ and understand how patinas are variously made, by additions sometimes, or by subtractions, while being similarly shaped. --William H. Gass


The works of Marilyn Minter, on display from November 12th to December 20th at Salon 94, force the spectator to adopt two distinct poses.   Their size, combined with the extremely large scale of the subject, necessitates a movement away from the image.  The photo-realistic style of the enamel images invites you closer.  You are compelled to perform a myopic examination of each piece in order to determine whether it is photograph or painting.  Yet you remain haunted by the propriety of the first stance despite the analytical necessity of the second; they are meant to be seen from a distance; these are billboards before they are paintings.  It is only from a distance that you can tell what is being represented.

But of course they are paintings before they are billboards and it is only by getting your face as close to the glass as the gallery assistant will allow, that you can tell by what means the subject is represented.

While the subjects themselves are straight off the runway (high heeled shoes, well manicured feet, theatrically make-uped eye)  and the palette indistinguishable from most ads in Vogue (saturated colors and glossy finishes exacerbated by particular and dramatic lighting),  Minter's large scale images of high-heeled feet and sparkle caked eyelashes mimic and even surpass the fetishism inherent in our popular vision of bodies- and in all their brightly lit glamour, indicate a set of relationships between object and spectator that are essential to a critique of both fashion and art (or perhaps a deflation of their conflation).  In this movement towards and away, of attraction and repulsion we are able to glimpse the complexities of our relationship with images in general and fashion iconography in particular.

That IS Kate Moss's body.  That photograph is airbrushed.  She's too skinny.  I am going on a diet.


This is the stated purpose of Minter's work.  "I'm not making a critique.  It's more about our love hate relationship to this ideal, and how the pleasure we feel as a viewer is ultimately about constant failure."   If not offering a criticism of her own she is providing the tools to begin one and a point of departure.   Minter states that her art is "in the moment when everything goes wrong. It's when the model sweats.  There's lipstick on the teeth and the makeup's running."

Just as skipping records recall to our conscious minds the apparatus by which music is produced, Minter's work underscores the construction of the illusion by emphasizing its flaws and weak points.  By drawing attention to the moments during which the illusion both disappears and makes itself overly apparent, she may not be offering any sort of positive critique but she is identifying a point at which it could feasibly begin by exposing the phantasmagoria of fashion and fetish as anything but seamless.  We can call it an appearing act.

Just clip one tiny thread and ....

At the same time that these images are documents of momentary unraveling, they are also images of intersection and accumulation; accumulation of enamel on metal, photography on painting, painting on photography, photography on culture, culture on painting on photography on meaning on bodies on canvas on culture‚ ad infinitum.

This is also an accumulation of anxiety and ambivalence; the lubricious surface of the enamel is really no less bright and oily than the prints and the jewel covered heels in mud speak to a number of fetishes that create a simultaneous sense of revulsion and desire and so we move towards the large images of glitter caked eyeballs and potentially broken ankles and then away again- disturbed by an uneasy proximity and our inability to make sense of the image at such close quarters.

Andy Warhol prophesized that eventually all malls will be museums and all museums great shopping malls.  Minter suggests that this prediction has been realized and invites us to think about exactly what such a reversal means.