Whitehot Magazine

June 2011, John Miller @ Museum Ludwig, Cologne

John Miller, Untitled (01-20-05), 2005
C-Print; 20,2 x 25,3 cm / 8 x 10 in 
Unikat und 1 Artist´s Proof
Copyright John Miller

Wolfgang Hahn Prize 2011 for John Miller
Museum Ludwig
50667 Köln
13 April through 31 October, 2011

For certain artists, the apparent artlessness of the everyday provides a fabric so rich in texture that they are really able to lay claim to it, make it theirs to explore and deploy. And in doing so, they effectively change our notion of reality or at the very least our perception of it. John Miller, who recently won the Wolfgang Hahn Prize, is one of those artists.

It could be said that the key to Miller’s work lies in his ongoing photo series, Middle of the Day. Miller captures, always in urban settings, that pivotal transitional moment from one phase of the quotidian to the next, an event that is inevitably marked by lunch breaks, last-minute errands, doctor’s appointments, and cross-town jaunts. For, whether he is working in painting, flash animation, sculptural installation, or photography, to name the four media featured in his current exhibition in Cologne, Miller is always resolutely in the middle – not always in the thick of it, per se, but fascinated by the middle brow, that realm of culture that art is supposed to ignore or even feel threatened by.

There’s also a hokey pragmatism to the work that couldn’t have come from anywhere except for America. You can’t always tell if Miller is being serious or not, as it often is with artists who take on sincerity as their big subject. Of course, lingering just below the surface of every banality is a rich gulf of sadness and despair; such sensitivity to these underlying emotional structures are implicit in a series of flash animations that utilize texts taken from personal ads and set to cheesy synthesized electronic music. Exploited as clips, the irony of the texts winds up being highlighted through an unmasking of their underlying naïve desperation – as though sharing similar interests were all that were needed to form the basis of a sustainable relationship.

In another work, Self-Made Man, 2011, a blown-up Craigslist ad from a “man of wealth” looking for a relationship without the commitments of traditional marriage reveals the pompous grotesqueries of a modern-day Pygmalion situation that is all too common, implying that the subtle forms of slavery and objectification that take place under late capitalism are no less nefarious than their blatant predecessors.

Miller’s work is always defined by a certain effortlessness at crossing the cerebral with the visual. In this, he is more motivated by his subject matter than any one particular mode of expression or conceptual framework. The result is that it’s never easy to recognize when we’re looking at a John Miller work; his free-ranging style includes both Duane Hanson-esque statues of heroes of consumerism (Now We’re Big Potatoes, 1992) and Dieter Roth-ian excess, as in his 1994 Topology for a Museum, six pedestals holding up pukelike mounds of sculpted grimy excess, with children’s toys and Pepsi cans occasionally emerging from the muck. It all depends on what idea he is captivated by at any given moment, and following those captivations becomes the adventure of following John Miller’s work.

John Miller, Im Vordergrund: Self-Made Man, 2011, Erwerbung der Gesellschaft für Moderne Kunst und des Museum Ludwig
Im Hintergrund links: Now we´re big potatoes, 1992, Gaby und Wilhelm Schürmann, Herzogenrath
Im Hintergrund rechts: Fotos der Serie Middle of the Day, Erwerbung der Gesellschaft für Moderne Kunst und des Museum Ludwig
Copyright John Miller, Gaby und Wilhelm Schürman; Foto: Lothar Schnepf, Köln

John Miller, Untitled (12-20-01), 2001
C-Print; 20,2 x 25,3 cm / 8 x 10 in
Unikat und 1 Artist´s Proof
Copyright John Miller

Travis Jeppesen

Travis Jeppesen's novels include The Suiciders, Wolf at the Door, and Victims. He is the recipient of a 2013 Arts Writers grant from Creative Capital/the Warhol Foundation. In 2014, his object-oriented writing was featured in the 2014 Whitney Biennial and in a solo exhibition at Wilkinson Gallery in London. A collection of novellas, All Fall, is forthcoming from Publication Studio. 

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