Christopher Horton

Mario Minichiello

Being There

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Mario Minichiello's drawings of sex enterprise in Amsterdam provoke unexpected questions and challenge some of the congealing assumptions of postmodern rhetoric. "Drawing from life" has become either an almost exclusively studio based and formally constrained practice, or else a media-reflexive deconstruction of ISSUES surrounding the "body," gender and sexuality. An artist like Minichiello, fully involved in the world of passions and lived experience, employing all of his physical, sensory, and social agility is a rare beast indeed.


Might Baudrillard's disappeared reality simply be the consequence of artists' withdrawal to the studio or interposing cameras between themselves and the world? Drawing remains one of our most immediate ways of being in the real world-current devaluation of the "artist's touch" and auras of originality notwithstanding. Through its continuous dynamic of cognitive, kinesthetic, and perceptual activity, drawing IN the world as opposed to working in the studio and from photographs or other media contrivances has the advantage of finding infinitely vital, mutable, and unpredictably real sources. Equally important, working in real life demands the artist's motility, feeling, perception and engagement with actuality and actual "others" which hermetic studio practice distances and amputates.

Good drawing is an organic act, a process by which the artist's repertoire of gestures tracks with and across the multitudinous actions and events of the world. Bad drawing is mechanistic, rigid, fanatic in its attempt to fixate life in surface illusion; it is a hollow shell containing little blood or breath. The drawing which is made with energy, flow, exaggeration, distortion, subtlety, ommission, suggestion, emphasis, changing and moving line, varying speeds and rhythms produces animated forms and scenes which pulse with vigor. The best artists portraying humanity throughout history knew this and their use and mastery of gesture is the most direct equivalent of visual experience and our immersion in a constantly changing environment. This kind of image making, in which Minichiello is an adept, is difficult — and doubly so nowadays, with its disparaged overtones of originality and romanticism. It admits and foregrounds the subjectivity and empathy of the maker in the image, and his participation in the world — which most postmodern genres deny, sublimate or disguise. It is also indicative that Minichiello's subjects are naked persons and not " figures" or "nudes," the privileged terms of aesthetics, (in Sir Kenneth Clark's antiquated and misogynous distinction,) thus retrieving the body from the constructions of studio art and fashion.

Regardless of how charged its subject matter may be, the photograph, with its stasis, its abstract fractioning of a continuum, its fixity of focus and point of view, deadens the very things it tries to preserve. The amount of vitality which exists in the photographic image depends soley upon the nature of what is represented; not upon any action by the photographer. The draughtsman on the other hand is engaged in a process of observation and response, interaction, practiced and unpracticed (new and spontaneous) moves, marks, stops, starts, jumps, and flows which result in organic action and imagery built up over time This is not to imply that ALL drawing is necessarily "natural" to use Kimon Nikolaides significant coinage. Artists who depend upon reconstructing photographic images through drawing and painting manufacture pictures as mechanical, stiff and dead as their photographic sources. Estes, Flack, Fish, Close, et al, produce surface renderings that are only formal and exibit a limited range of technical minutae. Such work says naught about its subjects or earthly domains outside of art. It is as autonomous and self-referential as the most esoteric abstraction, being about only its own formal qualities and spectacular precision; both of which assure its steady course in mainstream commodification.

Mary Alpern's surveillance photos of commercial sex at seedy hotels are "candid", grainy, blurred, mysterious pictures requiring enough effort to decipher that we become complicit in their pornography. In order to discern what is pictured we must look long and intently and are shocked as much by our own spying as we are at the discovered subject matter partially obscured behind dirty windows and someone else's camera lens. Explicit photos of sex acts by Jeff Koons and his porno-star wife are edgy only because they are autobiographical and if Koons were not already an establishment super-artist they would be undistinguished and uninteresting.

With Minichiello's fucking people there is an immediate, direct and quite joyous presentation of the behaviors of sexual interplay and exchange. He must have been present throughout; the very process of drawing makes this self-evident. Is it his presence, agreed to by the subjects and by which we become vicarious participants, which both shocks and delights us more than any of the work of contemporary purveyors of sensation, abjection and sexual monstrosity? Or is it rather that his drawings, energetic, rough and tumble, almost reckless, bring us closer to living than can a camera or studio facture? Is it just that his images are so damn lively?

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Professor Christopher Horton
University of Massachusetts, USA

September 2000