Legendary Mavericks Marilyn Minter and Michele Lamy on Sex, Aging and Beauty
Through their respective creative practices, artist Marilyn Minter and designer, performer and curator Michèle Lamy have each challenged and redefined traditional notions of beauty.
In the 1980s, Minter sent shockwaves through the art world with her overtly sexualized images of women, who sought to reclaim the visual language of sex from what she saw as a history of abuse and abuse. exploitation and also protested against the commodification of the female form. As Minter’s practice evolved, she began creating glossy, hyper-realistic paintings and stylized photographs of bodies – wrinkles, pimples, pubic hair, runny mascara, and all – as a way to normalize self-esteem. -calling flaws and criticizing the unrealistic standards of beauty propagated by advertising and fashion. With her henna-dyed fingers and gold-plated grille, Lamy – an indelible figure in the worlds of fashion and art and the wife of designer Rick Owens – continues to exemplify the beauty of individuality. As co-founder of Owenscorp, which she launched with Owens in 2004, Lamy oversees the company’s art and home divisions, curating multimedia exhibitions in museums and galleries around the world and collaborating on furnishings in the duo’s iconic gothic-futurist aesthetic. Lamy was also one of Minter’s subjects: in 2014, Minter photographed her for a series celebrating women aging naturally.
In mid-March, as Russian forces continued to advance in Ukraine, Minter and Lamy reconnected to discuss the roles of art and beauty in times of crisis and the importance of female representation. inclusive.
Marilyn Minter: As artists, our job is to take pictures of how we live, to turn chaos into images that speak to who we are today. As human beings, we are full of imperfections. The world we live in is constantly trying to erase imperfections, especially on Instagram and social media. And it just makes us sicker. My job is to celebrate imperfection, because that’s where I find beauty: in real things. These days, even the best photograph of the most gorgeous model is retouched. Trying to achieve constant perfection is really so toxic to the culture. We are going to come back to these filters, and the story will not be kind to this era of contouring your face. Michèle, for me you are the embodiment of beauty. That’s why I wanted to photograph you for a series on aging in 2014.
Michele Lamy: When I was told that you wanted to shoot me, I was very excited. But my fingers were freshly dyed black with henna, and you almost killed me, remember? When I arrived on set, you said, “You have to have red lips and red fingernails and natural fingers,” because everyone else on the show had that too. Oh my God, nothing could remove the dye!
MM: I wanted your grid in the photo, especially the diamonds in it. I thought the red lipstick would accentuate it. And I loved that you didn’t do any work to make yourself look younger. I don’t blame women at all for having plastic surgery because it’s hard to be a woman in this world, with all the pressures on us. But you were natural, and I thought, “That’s the face and the smile I want.”
ML: Men do work too, right? Maybe a little less, but they do too.
MM: Almost everyone does. When you have a certain amount of money, you are expected to erase the aging process. And if you don’t, there’s something wrong with you. Your look is so much more powerful than the fact that everyone looks alike. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. It’s so corny, but it’s true.
ML: The first time I went to North Africa, when I was 17 or 18, I saw these Berber women with tattoos on their faces and wrinkled skin. I found it so beautiful. I quickly discovered that I had Moorish ancestors! Around the same time, I remember my grandmother putting powder on her skin because people thought she was so tanned that she naturally worked in the fields. That was the only reason she concealed her appearance – so people wouldn’t think she was picking potatoes. You express who you are with your face and your gestures. I say what you can’t fight, embrace.
MM: The media plays a huge role in making women feel like once they reach a certain age, they are no longer sexy or desirable.
ML: It’s so wrong. Didn’t you think we’d be beyond that?
MM: Yeah. But I see actresses becoming producers now for the first time. Women need to own the production, to be the producers of our own images for our own amusement and pleasure. We need more pictures of who we are. The more we see people like you, that’s what will change everything. When I was growing up, the roles of women on television were nurses, teachers, and librarians. The women were not doctors. They weren’t CEOs. They were not powerful lawyers, Supreme Court justices or senators. I think that’s how everything will change.
ML: The fashion world is also changing. There is a lot more diversity now.
MM: I like this. At least people can see representations of themselves in fashion, advertising and television. It’s the beginning. Also, women writers today – they write so differently from what I’m used to reading from men. This is where the female gaze also comes in. The Lisa Taddeo and Sally Rooneys and Jennifer Egans – they have such a new way of looking at sex. I am so impressed with them. In the 80s when I started creating my sexually explicit work, I was a pro-sex feminist and I thought everyone thought like me!
ML: Exactly! That’s why all of your women’s series have been so important. They show us the way we want to be seen.
MM: That’s what I understood. We are never going to get rid of sexual imagery. Sex rules the world. But women can be its agents and producers. I think it will be healthier. All we ask is to share the power. We are not trying to take over.
ML: We want to share, but to share we have to take over.
MM: You are right! But the best we’re going to get right now is sharing. This toxic masculinity. Putin and his takeover of Ukraine – he comes from another century. Everyone sees these images of him bombarding women and children trying to get out through the supposedly safe humanitarian corridors. This authoritarian man, this patriarchy that rules the world, it’s toxic.
ML: It’s absolutely depressing. And what can we do? We must do our best to be kind to our neighbors and try to welcome refugees. As artists, we do our best to create things that say something and are powerful. Rick’s show at Paris Fashion Week, which started four days after the invasion, was originally supposed to have music that might have sounded quite harsh and ominous, but switched to Mahler’s Symphony No. 5 because it sounded more appropriate to the current moment. It completely changed the tone of the show. Demna Gvasalia’s show for Balenciaga was also extremely powerful. Demna had been a refugee himself, so it was very personal. It was a way for him to fit in with the times and show that fashion could be a link to larger issues and ideas.
MM: I always admire Rick’s shows. You know what upset me? Years ago, in 2013, he used step dancers to show off the clothes. It’s one of the best things I’ve ever seen in terms of fashion. I thought it should have been at the Whitney Biennial.
ML: The step dancers reflected the changing ideas about beauty and the way women expressed themselves at that time. Our creative process is an ongoing conversation. It’s the same with Lamyland; I mostly ask questions. It all started with a pop-up at Selfridges in London in 2018 that was built around the theme of boxing, which I’ve been doing for over 35 years. We invited artists and designers to create punching bags and also collaborate on capsule items. We had a fully functional boxing ring and a set of boxing pictures. It was an ideal world; we would pick up neighborhood kids to take boxing lessons, realizing that it’s one of the sports that can get kids out of trouble. Of course, it has also become a women’s sport. But the women’s fights versus the men’s fights, the way they’re treated is very different, even though they’re just as strong and they train the same way.
MM: My job is also to start conversations. There is a lot of contempt for popular culture, fashion, beauty and glamour, but these industries are still the giant engines of culture. Pornography too. These are the things that I would like to review, in the way we review the way we treated Monica Lewinsky and Britney Spears. We are appalled at the way we behaved with these young women. I want to tolerate complexity more and I want to revisit things that I have knee-jerk reactions to.
This article originally appeared in the May 2022 issue of Harper’s BAZAAR, available on newsstands May 3.
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