'It's an artistry' – the new show celebrating MILFs

'It's an artistry' – the new show celebrating MILFs

An immersive exhibition by Molly Wurwand explores the power, aesthetics and queerness of the MILF.

It was around the turn of the millennium when a six-year-old Molly Wurwand noticed something curious in their neighbour's backyard in Brentwood, Los Angeles. Under the t-shirt-suitable SoCal sunshine one December afternoon was a sloped patch of imported, real-life snow – kept in pristine condition and prevented from melting by a pair of enormous cooling fans.

“She was a lovely lady,” Wurwand says of their neighbour. “I didn’t know her that well, but she was so beautiful. She would have this snow schlepped in and she would sled down the hill.”

Having never seen snow before, Wurwand hung around the house with an eager grin, until one day the neighbour caught their eye and invited them to give sledding a try. “Come on in!” she said with exuberance. “The snow is great!”

While the decision to import snow to the warmths of California for ‘winter vibes’ is certainly eyebrow raising, Wurwand saw it as an inherent feature of the kind of woman her neighbour was. “I get the sense that it's a MILF thing,” Wurwand explains. “She had made herself into how she saw herself, really putting the time and investment to be like ‘This is me. I am fully this, 24/7.’ It's an artistry.”

Wurwand – an artist themselves – started painting fictional MILFs during the pandemic. The activity began mostly as a way to entertain themselves, before spiralling into a fascination. “I was just joking, [saying] ‘oh, it’s my MILFs’,” they say. “But then I painted over 50 and [started thinking about how] the archetype is so real, and so indicative of growing up in LA.”

Now, Wurwand has created a full exhibition dedicated to the MILFs of LA, which is on show, joint-presented by the city’s THNK1994 Museum and Junior High LA. It’s a wide-ranging, diverse exploration of the MILF character and culture, featuring Wurwand's paintings as well as installations, photography, a video piece, and a selection of MILF artefacts presented as historical exhibits.

Top to bottom: Photography by Josh Beavers.

An acronym for Mother I’d Like To Fuck, the term 'MILF' originated in the mid-1990s. While researching the etymology of their artistic obsession, Wurwand traced it back to a Playboy fan forum, where, following the publication of a 1994 article, an anonymous user wrote: “Have you seen this article Fabuulous After 40? It’s a bunch of MILFs.”

Since then the term has exploded in popularity, aided by a cameo in the 1999 teen sex comedy American Pie and proliferating over the past few decades across all forms of entertainment – from Fountains of Wayne's tongue-in-cheek 2003 banger ‘Stacy's Mom,’ to this year's reality TV sensation MILF Manor, to porn categories all over the world. A cultural icon forged among the hills of LA has now became a globally understood word, but what, and who, actually is a MILF?

“I think the aesthetic is different to the spirit, but they are tied together,” says Wurwand, suggesting that a MILF isn’t necessarily defined by a particular appearance or lifestyle, or even parenthood. Rather, that MILF is a mindset. “I think it starts from within, with this optimism and attention to detail [that manifests] aesthetically.”

Top to bottom: Paintings by Molly Wurwand.

Part of that attention to detail comes in the form of cosmetic surgery. This is no surprise given that LA is the epicentre of the industry, with one plastic surgeon for every 36,000 residents, according to 2020 statistics quoted by the Los Angeles Business Journal.

For Wurwand, cosmetic surgery is classically MILF. “I think there’s this artistry of creating how you want to look,” they say. “I think that’s something I’m probably envious of. If I could just have every surgery possible and fully look like an alien, I would do it. But my therapist has encouraged me to think about how that might not solve my internal strife.”

Taking control of one's body to such an extent is a powerful idea, but one that comes with darker undertones – something Wurwand is well aware of and explores in their art. The exhibition ends with a mirror that distorts the face, pulling cheekbones higher and wider, while pulling cheeks into the mouth. “[Control] is why we do our hair, or make sure that our nails are a certain type of way,” Wurwand says. “Then it gets more and more permanent, but also not permanent – you’re chasing this ephemeral thing because inevitably we will get older, filler will start to spread and dissolve, and you have to manage it.”

Top to bottom: Scents by Elizabeth Renstrom aka Basenote Bitch.

This part of the exhibition gestures towards a part of the MILF psyche that's more sinister than its vivacious outward appearance would suggest. While these women are beautiful and powerful in their own rights, much of the character’s existence is a product of the patriarchy. It’s mostly men who decide which mothers they’d like to fuck, after all. This is perhaps best demonstrated in Wurwand’s list of the most iconic MILFs, or their hypothetical “MILF Rushmore” featuring Princess Diana, Whitney Houston, Anna Nicole Smith, Nicole Brown and French actress Lolo Ferrari (who at one point held the Guinness World Record for the largest breast implants in the world) – all of whom died at relatively young ages, often in circumstances intertwined with powerful men.

“RIP to all these people,” says Wurwand. “Ferrari was stunning. She was mysteriously maybe killed by her husband [Eric Vigne, who was charged with her alleged murder in 2002 before being cleared in 2007]. It’s a horrible MILF trope that sucks, being beaten down in many ways by men.”

Top to bottom: Photography by Josh Beavers.

One part of the exhibition features a real-life MILF actress sunbathing on an island surrounded by a picket fence made of “splintery” white wood. That fence, Wurwand explains, is a nod to the aesthetics of the suburban American dream, but also acts as a form of physical protection. “I think about the patriarchy, the heteronormative society that we live in in general, I think about the gender binary,” they explain, of what it means to them. “Each of those spikes is keeping it all trapped.”

As feminism has entered a more pop cultural space over the past few decades, the concept of the MILF has evolved. For Wurwand, a big motivating force behind the exhibition is the reimagining of what it means to be a MILF, and even “queering” the traditionally hetero concept as a gender non-conforming artist. 

“I’m non-binary, and I still aspire to be a MILF,” they say. “On the surface, the MILF as one of [queer people’s] guardian angels is maybe unexpected. But there’s a big undercurrent of tragedy, and triumph over tragedy – and these are the little signals of queer.

“Even though this [exhibition] is inspired by people I’ve seen either in my head or growing up in LA,” they continue. “Maybe you’ll recognise someone or maybe you’ll start to see yourself.”

MILFs by Molly Wurwand is presented by THNK1994 & Junior High LA and will run at 603 S Brand Blvd, Glendale, 90214) until June 11 2023.

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