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Seduction, revulsion in L.A.–Studio visit with Cynthia Minet


The Brewery in Los Angeles used to be a Pabst brewery; now it’s a complex of old brick buildings–22 in all, some dating to 1888–on 23 acres of concrete grittiness, punctuated by a monumental chimney. But behind the brick and concrete walls and expanses of concrete and parking  is a beehive of about 500 artists and art-related businesses. Some of the places are residences as well as studios. And the people there sponser a semi-annual ArtWalk that draws huge crowds–there’s one coming up Oct. 9 & 10. More than 100 artists participated in the last one, in the spring.

Cynthhia Minet poses with Scapegoat, her eight-legged, eight-eyed monster of a domestic creature, made of ceramic and rubber.

It was here that I met Cynthia Minet in person in her studio, a couple of weeks ago. I had only chatted briefly with Cynthia online, and didn’t know much about her, but I liked images of her work.

The Brewery in the Lincoln Heights section of Los Angeles

I brought along my friend Bay, who now lives near Santa Barbara, and my friend Susan, who now lives in Marina Del Rey.  (Murray and I were staying with Susan and Steve.  Judging by the migration of friends and family to California, I feel like the left coast ought to be sinking, the right one rising as the balance of my personal population shifts).

Cynthia Minet’s cast ceramic herd

Minet not only works at the Brewery. She also lives there with her young daughter and her husband Marco–she moved there 12 years ago. With a group of potted plants outside her door, Cynthia and Marco have created a patio on some of the otherwise barren concrete. And inside, studio and living space merge.  For our visit Minet had pushed a child’s bed out of sight under a table displaying a herd of small cast sculptures; and she hid a beautiful pair of cats (live ones–a black one and a white one) in the first-floor bathroom; a small child’s table with crayons remained in view as did a sofa for a multi-purpse space.

Cynthia Minet’s horse glows with LEDs and fiber optics. Photo courtesy artist.

Minet’s most recent work is large, so Minet spread it out across the living and studio spaces. The newest pieces are made of recycled plastic forms like jugs and baskets and balls, LED lights and fiber optics. Earlier work is made of cast porcelain and polyurethane, sewn vinyl, rubber and bronze.

Cynthia Minet, small souvenir-style lion made for Venice Biennale collateral event, with old Italian coin, made of cast polyurethane

The shift in materials is a practical one. “I knocked things off the list as I developed sensitivities to the materials,” she said.

As the sensitivities developed, the materials increasingly reflected some of what’s on Minet’s mind–“early cloning experiments, genetic modification, how much our animals are being modified. The animals eat the stuff and become it.” Minet told us about an early cloning experiment in which spider DNA was inserted in goat embryos in a herd of 300 goats in Montana. The resulting goats’ milk had spider silk protein in it that had some surprising practical purposes–like making replacement sinew and creating fiber for bullet-proof vests.

Cynthia Minet, Scapegoat

“There’s all kinds of weird stuff on the internet,” she advised. Just search GMO–genetically modified organisms.

Cynthia Minet’s horse, when not illuminated, shows off its DIY aesthetic

That engagement with the internet and commerce comes out in the sculptures, with their pop and neon sizzle (OK, so it’s fiber-optic and LED sizzle) mixed with DIY survivalist jury rigging. In the daylight, the survivalism and helter-skelter materials of the witty construction shine.  In the dark, the unnatural glow of a slicker, sicker commercial,  contemporary visual landscape dominates. The dumpster-diver sculptures are at once discards and products, expressing the concerns about the environment, the food chain, and the entire contemporary commercial world of greedy excesses.

One of Minet’s carnivorous plants, inspired by overwhelming displays of vinyl purses next door to a shop with Venus flytraps

Earlier work also expressed these concerns, including oversized sewn plastic flowers with zippers, hairy fabrics and snaps (she taught herself to sew to make these), inspired by vinyl purses she saw in China displayed next door to Venus flytraps. Minet’s versions of carnivorous plants are at once menacing and sexy, not that far from the menace and seduction that underly the promise of GMO.

Cynthia Minet, vulture, of repurposed plastics
Minet’s vulture transformed by lights

Four pieces dominated the studio space when we visited. An eight-legged, eight-eyed goat of ceramic and silicon rubber, and three recycled plastic pieces–a bull, a horse and a vulture. A camel was in early stages.

Minet installation of illuminated sculptures in a recent show, with bull on the left, horse back right. The head of the Emu is far right.

“I read about animal behavior. The bull is in its threat posture.” Her sources are pictures in books and online.  She watched YouTube over and over to understand the motion of a horse getting up, studying it a la Muybridge, working out the anatomy and the gesture. The effective gesture and the spectacle of light belie the menace. Dichotomies like that are Minet’s m.o.–beauty and revulsion, storybook charm and sci-fi horror, menace and seduction, glossy Pop and jury-rigging, and capitalism and counterculture.

The larger works are made up of smaller pieces that assemble like a puzzle. Here’s the small model she made to work out the logistics for the goat. The repurposed plastics also fit together with hardware, no glue.

Minet began doing sculpture when she was little–influenced by Bernininis she saw as a young child in Italy. She has moved around a bit, from New Jersey to Italy as a baby, to London at age 10 and Los Angeles at 13. She’s mostly been in L.A. ever since, but she’s gone back to Italy several times, including as a student, with Tyler School of Art’s program in Rome, and later as a teacher also in Tyler’s Rome program. Minet now teaches at Moorpark College (her BFA is from UCSB, her MFA from San Francisco State). Minet is coming off two solo shows in the L.A. area, and currently has two pieces on display at Ontario Airport, including an Emu with solar-powered LEDs. She’s planning to do more solar pieces.

The eco edge and the reuse of materials, including the space in which she lives, are taking on greater urgency, it seems. Her husband Marco’s eating is totally organic. As for her daughter, “I think about the world she’s going to be living in.”