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When your favorite reality TV show comes to an end, or its stars or hosts implode via substance abuse, sex scandal or financial fraud, those memorable unscripted moments don’t have to fade into television history — thanks to artist John Miller, you can actually own some of them.
On Jan. 10, in the frigid gray of a New York City night, the opening for Miller’s colorful, TV-inspired paintings beckoned bundled-up patrons to his longtime gallery Metro Pictures and (steps away and by special arrangement) to Mary Boone Gallery, both on West 24th Street in Chelsea.
On view are a dozen of Miller’s series of reality TV works, begun in 2012, usually sepia-toned portraits in a Realist manner of cast members weeping. At Boone, in the painting Everything Is Said #23″ (2102) dark glasses can’t hide the welling emotion of Michael Paul “The Situation” Sorrentino from MTV’s Jersey Shore (pictured above).
At Metro Pictures, a downcast cast member from NBC’s The Biggest Loser hides his face, while the bright orange on his container of Tropicana — perhaps the caloric cause of such sorrow? — catches the viewer’s eye. Throughout both galleries, canvases depict cast members from other reality shows (a number from markets outside the USA) clutching hankies or blowing their noses.
Miller explained his interest in the reality sub-genre “where there is not an explicit prize” (such as cash or a recording contract as on Survivor or The Voice). On such shows as Jersey Shore or E!’s Keeping Up With the Kardashians and its spinoffs “the implicit prize is power and prestige, even if the power and prestige is just to be recognized as a charismatic individual,” he said.
Those who like their “reality” the old-fashioned way (on a studio set with fewer tears and more ecstatic jumping up-and-down) may be compelled by the dozen or so of Miller’s well-known “game show paintings,” dating back to 1995. In A Funny Forum Happened on the Way to the Thing from 1998, Miller presents the hauntingly empty red-carpeted set from The Price Is Right, having digitally excised its late host Bob Barker and the models known for years as “Barker’s Beauties.”
The Price is Right features heavily in this collection, most often as images and graphics, sometimes deliberately distorted and blurred. (Gallery-goers entered Boone’s exhibit space — shaking off a light snow — by treading on red carpet Miller installed in honor of that show’s set.) Yet Miller seems indifferent to the charms of Barker and the current host, Drew Carey; rather, the appeal for Miller is a show “purely about exchange value” and “the idea that there is a ‘right price’” for anything,” he said.
The rising curatorial star Piper Marshall, who kept her fur hat on at the opening to ward off the cold and who studied with Miller at Barnard College where he teaches art history, curated Here in the Real World.
What has continued to draw Marshall — and likely collectors — to Miller’s work is his abiding interest in what he called “the cheesy” and in producing pieces that have “a middling quality.” The artist is intrigued by the cultural touchstones of the American middle class, which he termed an “embattled demographic.”
Miller explained that he was first drawn to the reality genre though PBS’ An American Family in the early 1970s. The making of that classic and controversial documentary series, which depicted the upper middle class family of Pat and Bill Loud, was later the subject of the 2011 feature Cinema Verité, in which the series’ director, Craig Gilbert (considered by some the founder of the live-with-the-cast sub-genre) was portrayed by the late James Gandolfini,and which also starred Tim Robbins and Diane Lane.
Outside the reality and game show realm but sure to appeal to comedians is the video on view at Metro Pictures that Miller produced with Takuji Kogo as a “virtual band.” Robot’s video “I Love to Make People Laugh” is set to images from empty comedy clubs. Their lyrics to this song, as with the 18 others in their YouTube series Robot, all derive from personal ads found online, with all-synthetic vocals and music.
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