On the eve of their initial exhibition last year at New York's Salon 94 Freemans, I stopped by Marilyn Minter's Soho studio for a peek at her Mouth series. Not unlike Hans Namuth's photographs of Jackson Pollock, Minter had captured subjects marking glass—in the latter case, models regurgitating unreal foodstuffs. Minter's probing, sometimes repulsing investigations into consumer culture, and the work's slick pop sensibility have opened her work to a variety of commercial clients—not just luxury brands like Tom Ford, but cosmetics giant MAC and Supreme skateboards.
Barbed Wire, Pamela Anderson, 2007–2009. Courtesy the artist and Regen Projects
Incidentally, the "Mouth" series is a result of another Minter-esque fashion advertisement.
"I was walking down Houston Street and I saw someone with a shopping bag and on the bag there was a tongue with some yellow paint on it, and it was a shock to my system. I thought, 'I'm going to shoot painting with the tongue. I'm going to shoot all these bakery products,'" says Minter of the inspiration. That visual experience was then put through a more visceral procedure: "I had to clean up all that saliva. I couldn't ask anybody to do it, really. I was gagging all the time when I was shooting this, but I knew that was the only way I'd get it done." After developing the photos, Minter and a team of assistants spent the next two years employing her signature photorealistic finger painting style. They laboriously massage enamel against the steel panels until it's flesh-like, then finish it with a high sheen, candy-like gloss. The result was two perception-altering studio size paintings—Orange Crush and Pop Rocks (2009)—only the latter of which was shown in New York.
"While I was shooting, my makeup artist started shooting me with my video camera, and it looked so good we hired a videographer," she adds. "And I waited for the next commercial job I got, which happened to be MAC, and they were really gracious and said, "Sure, go ahead, shoot whatever you want." That titular video, Green Pink Caviar, grew from a quick Internet promo to occupy MTV's 44 1/2 jumbotron in Times Square, and then served as the opening background image for the European leg of Madonna's Sticky and Sweet Tour last summer. Now it's playing on Sunset Boulevard, in anticipation of Minter's first show at Regen Projects this Saturday. Judging from our conversation just before she installed the show, Minter is playing to the locals: "There's a whole room devoted to Pamela Anderson."
MICHAEL SLENSKE: This is your first show with Regen Projects.
MARILYN MINTER: Yeah. It's a big gallery space, and my work always looks good in light and airy spaces.
SLENSKE: Well it does seem like this body of work is everywhere now.
MINTER: It's definitely taken on a life of its own since we last saw each other. It was really organic, really natural; it was really nice. That's the way art should go all the time, I think.
SLENSKE: And this show is completely different from the work you showed in New York.
SLENSKE: But the photographs of Pam Andgerson were from a shoot you completed for Parkett a few years ago, right?
MINTER: Yes, but it took me three years to make those paintings. Three paintings and maybe four of five photos. Regen is a much more extensive gallery, it's way bigger, so I have one room devoted to Pamela Anderson and the other devoted to [photos and paintings from] the Mouth series from the Green Pink Caviar shoot. And then across the street I'm showing the video of Green Pink Caviar.
Orange Crush, 2007–2009. Courtesy the artist and Regen Projects
SLENSKE: It seems appropriate to save the Pam pieces for L.A.
MINTER: It makes sense, right?
SLENSKE: In Orange Crush, was the model was actually drinking Orange Crush?
MINTER: No, it's just orange flakes mixed with her saliva. But it's good looking so you forget that.
SLENSKE: And I forgot to ask last time, but what was that green pink caviar stuff?
MINTER: It's meringue with blue food coloring.
SLENSKE: It reminds me of theat slime on that Nickelodeon show.
MINTER: Isn't that great. I wonder what they make that out of?
SLENSKE: I don't think I want to know.
MINTER: I don't either.
SLENSKE: Did you ever try to use paint before moving to cake decorations?
MINTER: No, never! [LAUGHS]. Paint is so toxic. You're so cute. That would make somebody soooo sick.
SLENSKE: Hey, that's organic too: trial and error.
MINTER: "Artist kills model." It's very important to keep them alive.
SLENSKE: That's funny. It's seems like this work has kind of consumed you for a long time.
MINTER: It really has, I'm going on a vacation to a spa next week after the show opens. I haven't had a break in two years.
SLENSKE: As you were saying though, this series has really gone everywhere, into every type of spectacular context, and taken on a life of its own. What do you think it is about this work that's resonated with people?
MINTER: I never know. It's just one of those things you never have control over; it's one of those collective unconscious things. I don't know. All you can do is just execute your vision and hope you're communicating. It's this love-hate. It either makes your audience sick or they think it's gorgeous [LAUGHS]. For me they're always beautiful. (LEFT: PAMELA ANDERSON, TANLINE, 2008)
SLENSKE: What was more fulfilling for you, seeing Green Pink Caviar up in Times Square or on tour with Madonna?
MINTER: Madonna. [LAUGHS]. The video was stretched three stories high, and it ran the whole European tour. Last time we talked it was just in Times Square. When installed in Times Square, there was no sound. I liked that in every [concert] venue it was so huge and it looked so good. But I do think the video looks best in a gallery, projected on a giant wall, which is what's happening out here. That said, it's also on video-trons out on Sunset just as big as the Times Square one. I haven't seen them yet. I just got here an hour ago.
SLENSKE: And did the video change at all for the tour?
MINTER: No, but she expanded it [to three giant video screens]. For me it was really fun to see one of my idols taking something I made and making it into something unexpected. I think she was very respectful of the images.
SLENSKE: To me, the video's pop sensibilities seem at home at a Madonna concert.
MINTER: No, her fans were horrified. I went on her blog and they either loved it and said it was the best thing they ever saw or they hated it and it was the most disgusting thing they ever saw. One or the other. Love. Hate. No in-between.
SLENSKE: Did you get to see your video in action?
MINTER: Yeah. She sent me tickets. I saw the premiere in London. It plays during the very first song, "Candy Shop," on the tour. It never played here, it was only in Europe. She saw the video when she was here on a break and she changed the tour when the European version started. She saw [the video] through two different sources. She owns my photos, so it was interesting that two different sources showed her this. It was very exciting. I met her too.
SLENSKE: And you hadn't before?
MINTER: No, never.
SLENSKE: Is there anything new you're working on now?
MINTER: Yeah, I have a whole new body of work I'm working on right now. I have a whole bunch of things happening, but I can't talk about them. Is that awful?
SLENSKE: You can't even give me one word?
MINTER: Uh uh. [LAUGHS]. It's got to be a surprise.
SLENSKE: I'll have to sneak into the studio, I guess.
MINTER: If it works out you'll be one of the first invited. I'm working on two things at once. One thing just led to the other. It was a serendipitous, organic flow. Same thing like this, it has a life of it's own. The next project I'm doing has already evolved into other things, but it would ruin the project if I told you about it. It really would. There's a surprise element.
Marilyn Minter, Saturday through December 5 at Regen Projects and Regen Projects II, 633 N. Almont Drive and 9016 Santa Monica Blvd, Los Angeles.