Women’s Work: Marilyn Minter Brings Her Stilettos and Infants to Salon 94

You’ve come a long way, babies

In The Times, Mr. Trebay contrasted Ms. Minter’s studio system with the much more elaborate one of Jeff Koons, pointing out that Ms. Minter’s “amounts to a cottage industry. Like the owner of a mom-and-pop deli, she lives above the store, or rather, behind it, her domestic life wedged into the perimeter of a loft she has occupied since the bicentennial.”

Not anymore. A year ago, she moved her studio out of the Mercer Street loft she shares with her husband and into the 36th Street space. It may not be a factory, but it’s no longer exactly a cottage industry. She’s also building a second studio upstate.

And last spring, as though to remind the art world of her perseverance, Team Gallery took her ’80s work out of the vault, to rave reviews. She’s a defender of fashion, from which she derives a lot of her imagery—“I feed off the fashion world like a parasite,” she once said—and, still, of porn. “That’s also vapid, shallow, degrading. But there wouldn’t be an Internet without it.”

Despite her recent success, she’s resourceful in her work habits, using one project to finance another. When the Whitney Museum commissioned her to create a video to be projected on huge screens during its annual gala earlier this month, she asked the museum to finance her other videos. “I said, if you pay for mine, I’ll shoot yours,” she recalled. “I do it all the time. When I made Green Pink Caviar”—a five-minute film that the nonprofit Creative Time showed on a huge screen at Times Square and that caught Madonna’s eye—”I piggybacked it on top of a Mac makeup shoot. It paid for the whole shoot.”

The Whitney didn’t get just an entertaining video, it got illumination. “I said, ‘You won’t need lights, just get big screens.” Ms. Minter chuckles. “There’s the old artist ego.”

Perhaps to keep that ego in check, she still teaches—graduate art students at the School of Visual Arts—and regularly takes them around to galleries; it’s her excuse for seeing the work of her peers. (It’s a habit that began when she moved to New York at 27, after grad school, and began teaching at a Ramazz Yeshiva, then at a Catholic boys school, dragging the kids to the Met. “I got to see a lot.”)

“We’ll go to see a gallery show of a certifiable art star, and my students will ask me, ‘Why is this an important artist?’ And I’ll tell them why, but what I learn is, that artist isn’t communicating anymore. They’re painting money now.”

For her part, Ms. Minter tries to keep things in perspective—call it a defensive move.

“Success can be destructive to the creative process,” she said. “I say it all the time, success is as dangerous as total failure. There’s a handful of artists who seem to overcome the white heat.” She paused. “Women artists are never in the white heat.”


Last fall, this writer moderated a panel discussion about women artists and the art market. Ms. Minter was one of two artists on the panel. We tossed around some statistics: record for a living male artist at auction, Lucian Freud at $33 million; record for a living female artist, Yayoi Kusama at $5 million.

Ms. Minter told a story about a collector who once balked at her prices. “Women don’t make that kind of money,” she remembered him saying.

“People of my generation are used to collecting the heroic boys,” she said in her studio. “And they’re used to paying a lot of money for heroic boys. I don’t make a third of what a guy would make.”

Lately, she’s been working more with babies. (She’s made paintings of them since the ’80s. “I’ve painted so many of them, my gallery laughs about it.”) The Salon 94 show has a painting of a baby splashing around in nontoxic metallic paint and a video of multiple babies doing the same. We asked about her models. “My criteria was, they’re good looking babies,” she said. Her artist friend David Hammons’s daughter Carmen brought over her son. “He was one of my stars,” Ms. Minter said. “He’s been here many times. And he got scared and started crying and wouldn’t do it.”

She never wanted a baby of her own. “People always ask me that,” she said. “I like shooting them. I like using them as a metaphor.”

Women’s Work: Marilyn Minter Brings Her Stilettos and Infants to Salon 94