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Artist Marilyn Minter Gives SVA Alumni a ‘Pretty/Dirty’ Private Tour

A group of 19 eager alumni gathered after hours at the Brooklyn Museum recently for a special tour of the exhibition Marilyn Minter: Pretty/Dirty, led by a guide both intimate with the work and candid about its creation, the artist herself. Minter, who is also a faculty member in the MFA Fine Arts department at SVA, along with one of the show’s organizers, Carmen Hermo, assistant curator of the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art, took the group through her first ever retrospective, an exhibition spanning more than four decades of photographs, paintings and videos. Alumni Affairs and Development hosted the special event. “It is very rare to have this kind of access,” said Jane Nuzzo, director of Alumni Affairs and Development, “and based on the calibre of artist Marilyn is, I was thrilled to hear her speak with such warmth and ease about her artistic process and progress.”

Outside the main entrance to the galleries, Minter opened the tour with I’m Not Much But I’m All That I Think About (2011/2016), a large-scale video installation that projects a pool of quicksilver M&M’s onto the floor in the middle of an otherwise empty great hall, a room that swallows up paintings, as Minter put it. The installation was added to the show after it had opened, when it was clear the space was being underutilized. Minter reminded the group that being an artist means being flexible; this, along with her abiding impulse to push hard against prevailing aesthetic norms, would serve as mantra for much of her career on display and the stories shared that evening.


Minter is well known for her embrace of anti-glamour and depictions of sensuous desire, reveling in glitter and in dirt. Photographs of her mother at her vanity, an aging, addled Southern belle, kick off the exhibition. Taken while Minter was in college, they present the “damaged beauty” she grew up with and returns to often. Minter was jovial and frank about her work on the tour, highlighting her early struggle to adopt au courant techniques of photo-realism and then expressionism, looks that she could easily master but weren’t really her. She detailed her trials—feeling beat-up by critics, she once took a belt-sander to a painting, Rouge Baiser (1994)—and triumphs—she reclaimed a commissioned shoot for Playboy when it had too much pubic hair for the magazine; her love of Photoshop and obsession with layers, admittedly stealing from the commercial world every chance she gets; and her discoveries made while on the job, like that the key to getting the right viscosity in paint for up-close filming is vodka. While describing the process behind the video Smash (2014), which closes the show, Minter was as serious about the piece as she was unworried: You’re either mesmerized by it or you’re bored, she said.

Photographer and video maker Sarah Stuve (BFA Film and Video 2008) was overwhelmed by the tour experience, in a good way. A long-time admirer of Minter, Sturve said much of the exhibition speaks to her own work. “Technically, I’m still trying to figure it all out,” she enthused. “I knew it was complicated before but now [that I’ve heard all the steps involved]!” Sturve jumped at the chance to attend the event when Alumni Affairs sent an email about the tour to all alumni earlier in the month; folks were invited to sign-up on a first-come, first-served basis. Graduation years of attendees ranged from 1968 to 2016 and the group consisted of alumni from both undergraduate and graduate programs, and a variety of majors including photography, design and fine arts. Alumni Affairs hosts roughly two museum tours a year, a benefit of the College’s membership at various institutions. Because Minter teaches at SVA, the Brooklyn Museum had specifically reached out to the department about the possibility of doing something on the occasion of the retrospective.

The tour was freelance photographer Matt Herrmann’s (MFA 2015 Photography, Video and Related Media) first SVA alumni event of this type, and he appreciated the small scale and in-depth discussion. “I was super into her talk of surface,” he said. “She completely embraces it.”

For more information about Marilyn Minter: Pretty/Dirty, which is on view at the Brooklyn Museum through April 2, 2017, click here.

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