Minter and Owning It

While I was at work yesterday, my husband in an attempt to be cheeky sent me an article from the NY Times titled The Joys (and Challenges) of Sex After 70 : Sex can drop off in our final decades. But for those who keep going, it can be the best of their lives.

It’s actually a great, long read and a topic that should be considered advice for everyone, not just us oldsters. What I started noticing though are the photos accompanying the article, are all by artist Marilyn Minter. Excellent I thought. More of this sort of view of people outside of the narrow tunnel of what you would presume. Of course, as expected, some people were up in arms over the photographs. I went to the comments, which of course is always a ten-alarm dumpster fire if the topic is sex. God Bless America: How Vulgar!

All photos here copyright NYTs and Marilyn Minter. 

I’ve been watching Minter’s work for a long time, from back in the day when I was able to frequent the galleries in NYC on a regular basis. She, who at 73 years old is statistically the target audience the article is looking at. 

That being said, she has taken a career’s worth of criticism for choosing to focus on the sexuality of women from a woman’s point of view. 

In a recent Frieze article discussing an her exhibit  last September at the Montpellier Contemporain, in France, she says,

“I’ve always been a big fan of women owning their sexuality. Men find it threatening when young, beautiful girls make sexual imagery, but if you’re an old lady like me then you can do anything you want. There’s a famous photograph that Robert Mapplethorpe took of Louis Bourgeois holding what looks like a giant dildo (Louise Bourgeois with Fillette (1968), 1982) and everyone thinks it’s adorable, but if she were a young woman then people would be horrified – other women would be attacking her.”

I appreciate the photos in the NYT article. 

PS, they always say DON’T READ THE COMMENTS, yet here are a few left on the NYTimes site as a companion to the article, thankfully some more enlightened than others:

This article is hardly representative and the artwork appalling.

PS: Story is touching but photos are offensive.

Great article. This topic doesn’t get talked about enough. Intimacy is such a marvelous thing. Boo to the negative comments about attraction to aged bodies – aging happens to us all.

I loved the exploration of sex and intimacy as the body changes. The photos were fun, playful, and meant to be overtly sexual.

Good article. Thank you for featuring Marilyn Minter. (editor: yes, thank you).

Notes on Old In Art School

Old In Art School

During that week that spans Christmas and New Years I found myself enmeshed in Old In Art School: A Memoir of Starting Over by Nell Irvin Painter.

Amazon reminds me that “You purchased this item on June 27, 2018“, yet it took me until now to start and voraciously read. 

The book tells of the biases even an insanely ambitious and successful person can feel while pursuing their MFA. Painter was 64 when she went back to school. 

This is for anyone who felt the anger that the MFA is broken and you can make yourself crazy for years not feeling the validation you were looking for in pursuing that piece of paper. It happened to me. Add on top of that the fact that she is a person of color and a woman who is also OLD, god forbid and the wheels come off. 

It made me want to write her a letter. Did you know there are many people who feel the same way? 

Then I ask myself why is it so important that we pursue this thing, the MFA. 

The parameters of success in the MFA degree are so narrow and have not changed since when it became popular probably in the 70s. Who created this fantasy? Better question, why do I still care? I do. 

There is also a very small side bar I wish to depart to her, as I think at this point she has found her place in the art world and all is well. However, she is still insecure about how her love of knitting fits in with all of this, as witnessed to how she spent her time during the first year of the pandemic. 

She said it was her secret, although those of us who have the same predilection saw the tip off when she describes what she was wearing to art school, ” My fashion statement said “comfort”. Plain white T-shirt, black pants (I was the only one in long pants), sturdy what New Balance walking shoes  and a baseball cap. Today’s cap said ,”New York Sheep and Wool Festival“. I may not have been the only knitter in that crowd, but I was the only one wearing it, on this, my second day as a BFA student at Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey.”  The next paragraph discusses the first query of  a fellow student asking her how old she was. 

Sixty-four, I answered. 

In 2020 Painter publishesI Knit Socks for Adrienne

“I Knit Socks for Adrienne is the most personally declarative piece of art I have ever made, more personal, even, than self-portraits, precisely because it is personally declarative in words that wrench the artist Nell Painter out of the closet as a knitter. For a long time I stayed closeted as a knitter. I thought, Let you see me as an artist, as an historian, as an artist who uses history, not let you see me as a knitter: a crafts-woman, an old lady sitting around with her needles and yarn. That mental image wasn’t one I had been able to expose.”

Painter I Knit Socks for Adri

I too knit during the pandemic. I finished two sweaters I had started a decade earlier, which was like some ungodly miracle. There was comfort. I continue to try to reconcile in my own head why knitting and painting are two different things for me, one is a fall back when the other is not going well or able to function. I have no problem with other people declaring knitting, crotchet, fiber projects of any sort fine art, it just doesn’t work in my own personal brain that way. Nell’s either.

But 2020 opened my closet door to reveal me knitting to hold myself together. There was all the death, searing painful deaths by the hundreds of thousands, especially of Black people. There was economic want. There was hunger. There was hope, in the hundreds of thousands of Americans in the streets calling down racism, denouncing White supremacy, declaring Black Lives Matter, roughing up, tearing down monuments to the Confederacy. The dead scared me. The demonstrators made me feel safer in the USA than ever before.

I hope she is still knitting.

For a great interview with Nell, listen to this episode of Modern Art Notes with Tyler Green.

And here she is on PBS Newshour.


On Marking the Days

It wasn’t my intent, by any means to start 2022 here with Danica Phelps, but here I am again.  Why do I find my way to her at the start of each year? I was looking for a poem for a friend but then I thought of resolutions, and then gratitude and then wait a minute we are back to Danica.

She has a brief about what she has been doing during the pandemic and writes on her website,

This project started early on in the pandemic when I had no idea if I would ever sell another piece of artwork, or if the tenants would be able to pay their rent in the 4 apartments that I own.  My son and I were playing Monopoly in the first couple of weeks of lockdown, and when he started crushing me, as he always does, I felt like Han Solo, clawing the side of a sandy pit, trying not to slip down into the jaws of the Sarlac.  It just felt too real when things in my life could be heading that way.  At the same time, I was reading an early draft of Eula Biss’s book, Having and Being Had, for which I am grateful to be on the cover, where she tells the story of Elizabeth Magie who invented Monopoly to teach empathy.  Yah, that made sense to me… that was before it was taken over by Parker Brothers and marketed as a game about capitalism.  When Orion and I first started playing Monopoly years ago, I observed with him that if we took turns developing our properties, and gave the other person a chance to make enough income to pay the rent instead of immediately going into debt, then both of us would win because we would get to keep playing the game.  Our economy should be like that… the markets should be built for everyone to participate.  We all win that way.  Instead, as Kimberly Latrice Jones spells out so well in her video, at minute 3:15, the system doesn’t work for Black and brown people in this country; how it’s like trying to play monopoly when you’re the one player starting the game with no money and then whatever you gain and earn is taken from you.

I think my pull to Phelps isn’t necessarily art related, but every-day related. Her thoughts are always grounded in what is now.  The marking of the days, the patterns of what we do with ourselves. She circuitously returns again and again to themes that make up the human condition. Maybe that is what I try to do each New Year’s Day, as pointless it is to designate one day better than another, or placing your optimism in the cradle of a few hours that quickly pass.

Danica Phelps, Cost of Love (panel #6), 2011 Courtesy of the artist and Galerie Hubert Winter