John Miller, The Collapse of Neoliberalism @Metro Pictures

JTF (just the facts): A total of ten works from 2019 and 2020, including six unmatted inkjet prints in black frames, one video, and three installations.

The photographic and video works in the exhibition are:

  • The Expanded Field, 2019, inkjet print on Ilford Smooth Pearl paper, 59 1/16 x 90 3/16 inches (image), edition of 3.
  • Truth Serum, 2019, inkjet print on Ilford Smooth Pearl paper, 72 x 48 1/8 inches (image), edition of 3.
  • Marsha, 2019, inkjet print on Ilford Smooth Pearl paper, 41 7/8 x 60 1/8 inches (image).
  • Consent (Manufactured), 2019, inkjet print on Ilford Smooth Pearl paper, 40 1/16 x 60 1/4 inches (image), edition of 3.
  • Deep State, 2019, inkjet print on Ilford Smooth Pearl paper, 40 3/16 x 60 1/4 inches (image), edition of 3.
  • The Tip of the Iceberg, 2019, inkjet print on Ilford Smooth Pearl paper, 26 11/16 x 40 inches (image), edition of 3.
  • Toll Free, 2019, 4K video, color, sound, 6 minutes 8 seconds.

The exhibition also includes:

  • Origin, 2020, installation consisting of one dressed mannequin, blue wall paint, one mannequin stand, dimensions variable.
  • Dress Rehearsal for the Revolution, 2020, installation consisting of wallpaper, two light stands, one camera stand, one camera, folded backdrops, clothing, one wig, two light bulbs, two umbrellas, one mannequin hand, one mannequin foot, one gray monochrome painting on canvas, dimensions variable.
  • Project for a Revolution in New York, 2020, installation consisting of five dressed mannequins, five wigs, miscellaneous jewelry, four mannequin stands, nine mannequin hands, three guitars, one snare drum, one microphone and microphone stand, and one metal chair, dimensions variable.

(Installation shots below.)

Comments/Context: John Miller’s critique of Western consumer society and art’s place in it now spans 40 years. His latest solo exhibition at Metro Pictures takes its name from an ideology—defined by deregulation, free market trade, and privatization—that has dominated global economies for the same amount of time and which is increasingly seen as fostering economic inequality and environmental degradation worldwide.

The exhibition reprises a strategy familiar from Miller’s previous work—the use of mannequins and staged settings, here deployed in enactments of consumerist fantasies. In the gallery’s front room, large-format color photographs (all 2019) feature carefully styled department store dummies posed against readymade backdrops, most purchased—fittingly—on Amazon. In one photo, a couple appears to be viewing a luxury apartment; in another, two identical male mannequins, casually dressed in open-collared shirts, occupy what looks like a corporate office. And in Marsha, a female dummy with a mane of beach hair addresses—or pitches to—an audience seated in a well-appointed living room.

A fourth photograph shows a group of figures standing, as if in conversation, against a diagram referencing theorist Rosalind Krauss’s essay, “Sculpture in the Expanded Field,” perhaps a reference to art’s increasing importance as an alternative asset class. Another diagram, this one illustrating Freud’s theory of Ego and Super-ego, turns up in a work titled The Tip of the Iceberg. It suggests the ways in which neoliberalism exploits and manipulates conscious and unconscious desires, particularly for such nonmaterial prizes as political power or social currency.

An installation in a gallery beyond features a clutch of mannequins dressed as rockers, possibly a reference how 1960s countercultural rebellions helped usher in the unrestrained capitalism of today. In a nearby video, the camera pans 360 degrees around an intersection in downtown Manhattan—as it happens, the area in Tribeca where a number of galleries have recently moved—while elevator music plays in the background. Periodically, images of mannequin hands and telephones float into the picture, accompanied by recordings of different phone scams aimed at getting the receiver to give up their credit card or Social Security number.

In this work, the scam robocalls seem to be stand-ins for a predatory system whose effects—including undrinkable water, unaffordable drugs, and structural racism—are, for many, a matter of life and death. Seen in this light, the mannequins’ hands intruding into the frame might almost be semaphoring for help.

In its instrumentalization of the banal, Miller’s lo-fi production, though at times flatfooted, is far from banal itself. Rather, it brings into sharper focus an economic, social, and political structure so often manifesting as banality its outlines can be hard to see.

Collector’s POV: The photographs in the show are priced between $8000 and $12000 each; the video is priced at $10000. Miller’s photographic work has little secondary market history, so gallery retail remains the best option for those collectors interested in following up.

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JTF (just the facts): Self-published in 2019 (here). Softcover in a slipcase (21×29 cm), 132 pages, with 125 color and black and white photographs. Includes writings by the artist. In ... Read on.

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