Portia Munson creates art in a variety of disciplines but considers herself first a painter, and second, a collector of things.
Munson’s paintings are an exploration of individual objects spanning the intimate, corporeal, and sometimes banal spectrum of American domestic feminine culture. Munson isolates her congruently sized recontexualized renderings of objects on simple unidentifiable grounds; not unlike archaeological documentations or botanical illustrations historically used to classify recently excised artifacts or discovered species. Many of the objects Portia Munson collects and paints are directly connected to female sexuality (like a brassiere, or a delicately pair of panties unrolled from the body and left in their resting place) but many are not, and become infused with feminine corporeality through association and interpretation (like a strawberry stained napkin, or a child’s hand warming muff).
Munson’s practice of obsessively looking at and into these objects to exercise identity and formulate meaning from them, and then translating those meanings through the activity of putting brush to canvas, charges the images with a vulnerable sexuality and a sort of bodyness, furthering her explorations of the objectness of American “Womanliness”. These small paintings are often arranged on the wall in small groups (or collections of paintings of objects), and they often directly depict individual items installed within Munson’s larger found collections.
Portia Munson’s most famous work, “Pink Project”, first exhibited in the “Bad Girls” Exhibition at the New Museum of Contemporary Art in 1994, is a massive display of over two thousand pink plastic found objects; from house wares to product packaging, to girls toys, dog toys and sex toys; it is a selective and ordered exploration of the cultural consumption and gendered connotations of the color pink (the color of female genitalia and little girls) and of how these colored objects infantilize women and comodify idealized or essential femininity. Munson began collecting discarded pink plastic objects over thirty years ago, never expecting to integrate these collections into her art practice. Although she considers herself a painter first, she was unable to express all of the aspects of what she was interested in through painting alone.
“Pink Project” began out of twenty five years of collecting pink detritus, and it took more than ten years to refine it in its first conception back in 1994. It has been growing and evolving ever since; having first been exhibited in a highly selective, precisely placed and organized manner on a pink clothed table. It was later displayed in two vitrines; one organized in a scientific fashion with appropriately spaced shelves where the objects or artifacts seem to be classified aesthetically by size and shape, and the other filled to the brim with a wild mix of objects shoved together in a homogeneous mass. The “Pink Project” then turned a bedroom into a saccharine pink cave with the addition of pink fabrics hanging from the walls and ceiling, and more recently the project morphed into large overwhelming and unorganized mounds, referring more to our cultures mass consumption of color classified stuff than to the individual items gendered identities, though she continues to explore the individual identities of objects through her paintings and flower mandalas (a selection of freshly plucked flower heads she then arranges into patterns and photographs before they decay).
“Pink Project” inspired Munson to explore the cultural significance of other specifically colored consumable and disposable objects and broaden the foundations for her collections in a project called “Green Piece: Lawn” (2000-2007) and a project called “Garden”(2001-?).
All Images are Courtesy http://www.portiamunson.com
Nature Morte; Leslie Camhi. 1994. Catalog.
Washington post: Life 360 PBS- Junk with Portia Munson.
Warhol Museum: Artists Who Collect: Portia Muson
Art in America: June-July 2007. Portia Munson at P.P.O.W. by Kirsten