There’s an instant inside John Miller’s Mary Boone show — it happens in the back room, quite suddenly — when an
exhibition that reads as cool commentary on our appetite for reality television turns into an unexpected meditation on our appetite for performance art.
The show is one of two running concurrently at Boone and Metro Pictures that were curated by Piper Marshall and are called, collectively, “Here in the Real World.” The title references the MTV show that was, for many, their first taste of made-for-TV voyeurism. “Here in the Real World” also suggests the blur between watching and acting, life and art, and fantasy and
reality, which are Miller’s lines of inquiry.
Born in the mid 1950s, Miller is an Ohio native who attended grad school at CalArts and was close to the late Mike Kelley; he now teaches art at Barnard. He may have cultivated his attention to the middle reaches of pop culture from any or all of those orbits; at Boone he presents selections from the game-show series he has been working on since the late 1990s. They’re big color panels of acrylic on canvas, some curled around stretchers mimicking the curved screens of the old cathode ray tubes. They capture surreal non-moments when the camera pans around the sets of The Price Is Right and Let’s Make a Deal, a hovering hand here or a half-open door there. Hung alongside and between them are grisaille portraits of reality TV stars — Real Housewives and Jersey Shore guidos among them, though who is whom Miller professes not to know — miming pathos for the camera.
This is all well and good, if a bit sneering, until we come upon a picture of an eye-daubing woman — probably a Real Housewife — who has the lush dark hair, big eyes, and expressive features of a young Marina Abramovic.
And thus the switch is flipped, and a cascade of memories of Abramovic’s The Artist Is Present at MOMA flashes to mind: the parade of weeping faces that sat across from the performance artist at MOMA in 2010; the many photos by Marco Anelli, who captured each sitter doing time; and of course the Tumblr Marina Abramovic Made Me Cry, and its cousin Marina Abramovic Hotties. With the ghost of Abramovic now present in the room, Miller’s reality personalities become stand-ins for the museumgoers who cried with Marina, and a through line appears from cathartic performance piece to reality TV to game show. On The Price Is Right we come to win but also to perform, as we did in MOMA’s atrium. And though this may not be news, it still feels like a discovery.
Over at Metro Pictures, Miller surrounds us with a different kind of reality: life-size grisaille painting-objects depicting unwitting pedestrians, individually and in groups, who wait for a light or check their phones, unaware they’re being watched. Originally caught by Miller’s camera and translated by the artist into paintings on boards several inches thick, the objects
are mounted here and there in the gallery,
enveloping us in banal humanity.
The vibe is wholly different from the Boone show: more casual, more intimate, more…real. The works are simultaneously easier to dismiss and harder to look at —
a “LOVE PINK” sweatshirt, seriously?
Unlike those reality TV stand-ins for our Abramovic selves, these folks are you and me. Tempting as it might be to write them off, Miller advises against it.