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Fashion Abstraction

By Steven Rosen · October 7th, 2009 · The Big Picture
With the opening of Chewing Color, the new exhibition of the subversive, questioning, unnervingly intimate and maddeningly beautiful fashion photography of Marilyn Minter, the Contemporary Arts Center (CAC) has three simultaneous exhibitions that prominently feature video work.

That should tell you something about where contemporary art is going. Like all of society, it’s becoming more and more about screens and how they have become de rigueur in places where they once seemed foreign. They’re becoming a key way we experience art and museums. (The other CAC shows are Anri Sala: Purchase NOT by Moonlight and C. Spencer Yeh: Standard Definition.)

Only one of Minter’s pieces in her show is a video. But what a video it is! “Green Pink Caviar” greets everyone arriving at the museum’s second-floor gallery with its amazing color close-ups — sometimes hyper-realistic, sometimes abstractly flowing and fleetingly ephemeral — of a model’s face at a photo shoot.

In this seven minute and 30 second video, seemingly shot from the other side of a glass surface, we see the lips, teeth and licking tongue working their way through … what? Green gelatin? Cake-decorating pellets? Syrup?

It’s so hypnotically transfixing it’s no wonder Madonna used it as a backdrop on her “Sticky and Sweet” tour.

The mix of sensuality and mysteriousness fits her.

Other than “Caviar,” Minter’s show consists of her photographs and paintings. The large enamel-on-metal painting “Bazooka” is of a woman with glittery eye makeup (and maybe freckles?) amidst a carnival-esque explosion of pink. Bubble, lips and mouth become their own expanding universe. It’s so close up that one can even see the reflections of hair in the bubble, so realistic in its detail that even Richard Estes would be envious.

Yet it’s a different kind of “painting” — Minter’s assistants merge and arrange imagery from hundreds of Photoshopped photos to get the desired effect, realistic yet elusive. Minter reworks the finally arrived-at image, moving the color around and smoothing out any evidence of the painter’s gesture, and then applies varnish. The effect is that much remains hidden, and that’s possibly a commentary on the exploitive nature of commercial fashion photography.

Her photographs try to shout out that they’re “real” — photographs, that is. She likes color prints that show their frame numbers, reminding us where they came from. They, too, push abstraction. “Gimme” is an open mouth and tongue, with those cake-decorating pellets floating by or attached to the body parts like invading amoeba.

The compelling “Pop” is a large photo of a big round bubble protruding from a red lip — so big that one imagines it growing Blob-like and taking over the gallery. In the reflections, one sees what appear to be water, light, hair strands and sunglasses.

But most interesting is the blackness, the void, lurking in the image’s top portion. No commercial fashion photographer would allow it. It’s indicative of an artist who knows that what we don’t see or don’t quite understand is as important as what’s visually obvious.

In an innovative use of the billboard-sized LED screen overlooking Fountain Square, a shorter version of “Green Pink Caviar” will be shown. Let’s hope this work of art balances out the showing of the old Paul Dixon Show’s “Chicken Wedding” a while ago. (Chewing Color is on display at the CAC through May 2, 2010.)

CONTACT STEVEN ROSEN: srosen@citybeat.com



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