Continuing through January 20, 2024
This forty-year survey explores the varied artistic production of John Miller, an artist associated with the California Institute of the Arts during the late 1970’s. Despite his prolific output, the level of fame or notoriety achieved by peers such as Mike Kelley and Jim Shaw has eluded Miller. This museum quality exhibition argues that he merits a higher level of recognition and visibility. It brings together representative examples drawn from several bodies of work, including works on paper, paintings, sculpture, and photo-based images dating from the late 1980’s to the present.
Miller emerged with the “pictures generation” from which he developed his particular approach to figures and social spaces as well as a pointedly critical approach to the nature of representation. His outright disdain for the limited conditions of abstraction is evident in “Untitled” (1987), in which a vertical canvas monolith, painted in Miller’s signature burnt sienna brown, exudes a scatological critique of the approach and its pretensions to authenticity, the artist’s subjectivity, and an “art for art’s sake” evacuated from the social and political conditions that, he suggests, are completely inescapable.
Sienna brown appears again in new photo-based inkjet on canvas prints, where the impasto rectangles, here a mixture of modeling paste and acrylic, disrupt and soil the spaces they occupy. In “The Set of Facts He Expects to Control” (2021) these additions to a conventional photograph of a contemporary building and European car shatter the composition.
In “Sustained in a Continuing Calm” (2021) twenty of the sienna rectangles aligned in four rows of five each take a position that mirrors an imaginary perspectival wall surging toward a vanishing point. This arrangement short circuits the view of a contemporary cityscape where glass skyscrapers, representations of financial power, vie for our attention and lend themselves to Miller’s sense of disruptive irony.
A site-specific piece titled “Reflection” (2023), with its floor to ceiling scale, takes up an entire wall. Here the image is composed of photographs Miller has accumulated over the years in his ever-expanding image archive. To the left two sections, each different, of a deteriorating wall enclose an image of urban buildings with an abandoned lot and some trees at street level. To the right another pristine but cheap looking wall-veneer has a circular mirror which reflects a distorted image of another social space that includes Korean signage and another empty lot.
Via the circle motif, this playful puzzle interacts visually with two other images on a separate wall to the right, a digitally printed painting “Learning to Cope” (1999), and “Stasis” (2017), a painting in latex with an acrylic coating. Both pose a critique of consumer capitalism that zeroes in on the game show phenomenon, in this case the “Price is Right.” In the earlier work, a mandala format features both the repetitive figure of a contestant and multicolored pills, suggesting a drug induced state of mind. In the latter, a double- screen-within-a-screen format depicts the game as a TV screen superimposed over a bisected reality. We are positioned as part of an unseen audience watching the goings on, eagerly expecting the contestants’ fantasies to come true.
Miller’s interventions, his editing and splicing techniques destabilize images of power, rendering a critique of representation and cultural value systems. For this, his first show in Texas, the curators have presented an engaging and challenging exhibition that’s both timely and thoughtful.