It was an unseasonably warm Thursday evening when I decided to take advantage of the late-night hours at the Brooklyn Museum and walk through the “Marilyn Minter: Pretty/Dirty” exhibition one last time before it closed. The first time I visited, I was struck by the larger-than-life photorealistic paintings which celebrate a gritty, real beauty – showcasing perceived flaws such as a pimple ready to burst and armpit stubble. The idea that women can break through the facade of beauty really resonated with me.
This time around, I spent time examining the more pornographic work in her collection. I admired the contrast of the Food Porn series, depicting the natural sensuality of food, with the more graphic series Porn Grid. Monday through Friday I come into work and sit across from three paintings from the Food Porn series. Each painting features delicate, feminine hands topped with long fingernails coated in glossy red polish. One hand gripping a melting popsicle, another preparing to eat an English muffin coated in butter and two thin hands with slender fingers knuckle-deep in ground meat.
In a world where censorship and political correctness are on everyone’s mind, amplifying the thin line between what’s acceptable and what’s not is especially interesting. A painting portraying oral sex is deemed inappropriate but photos of women simulating the same act with food are rampant in fashion photography and advertising.
As a 32-year-old woman, I find Minter’s pro-sex feminism refreshing. Despite being more than twice my age, she rejects the idea that women need to be demure, polite or afraid of our own sexuality. She wasn’t thrown off course by lack of recognition in her earlier years and didn’t tailor her work to fit within people’s expectations of female artists.
I believe that it is important to have heroes – people you look up to and draw inspiration from. While strolling through the exhibition I began to think of my mom. A strong-willed yet warm entrepreneurial woman who has spent her career leaning in and paving the way for the next generation. Not because she read it in a book but because it was the only way her voice would be heard in a male-dominated world.
These two women, who I look up to for entirely different reasons, do have one thing in common: They both reject the patriarchal model of women as objects and motivate me to be myself even if I’m sometimes hard to handle.