She made her first notorious work at 21, in 1969, when she was still an art student at the University of Florida, but it was so misunderstood that she didn’t show it again for another 30 years. She’s barely known in France, where she’s only had one solo show (at Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac in 2001), but in the U.S. she’s always been admired, essentially by artists – of all generations, her own and those that followed. They didn’t abandon her when, in 1990, she was “thrown out of the art world,” as she puts it, due to further incomprehension of her work.
Her 2015 retrospective, Dirty/Pretty, which was shown at the Denver Museum of Contemporary Art, the Houston Contemporary Arts Museum and at New York’s Brooklyn Museum, put an end to all the misunderstandings, and, whether or not it By Éric Troncy is to one’s taste, amply demonstrated the perfect coherence and solidity of an oeuvre spanning 40 years. Now 71, Marilyn Minter has never sought success, but it has finally found her. “You don’t make art to be successful. If you make art for the love of it, then you’ll be fine, because even if you don’t earn any money, at least you’ll be making what you like. You’ll enjoy doing it.”
Minter was born in 1948 in Shreveport, Louisiana, and grew up in Florida. She exhibited a precocious talent for drawing and put her gift to profitable use when, at 16, she started faking driving licences – she was a dab hand at reproducing typescript with a pencil –, which earned her a few days in jail. The photos she made of her mother one weekend, while at art school in Gainesville, shocked her classmates, a reaction she didn’t expect. The 12 black-andwhite images (Coral Ridge Towers, 1969) showed their subject in her everyday idleness, lying in bed smoking, or dyeing her eyebrows, permanently dressed in a nightgown. “My mother was a drug addict. She never really left the house and almost always wore a nightgown ... She was a beautiful woman at one time, still very concerned about her looks, but a little off ... She was never quite right in terms of glamour,” explains Minter, who hadn’t foreseen that her photos would be interpreted as a damning portrait of their subject. So she filed the offending prints away, and didn’t show them again till 1995.