Exhibit takes a swipe at ‘corporatism’
“Oh, I’ll never run out of ideas,” said artist Jason Miller. “I have so many ideas on the drawing-board that I haven’t gotten to yet.”
Perhaps there’s such a thing as too many ideas, but you can certainly say this: Miller, 31, is among the most energetic, prolific and protean young artists in Memphis.
The eight works in his show “Corporatism: The New Religion,” at Playhouse on the Square through June 17 — in the far back gallery — testify to his cultural and ethical concerns and highlight a longtime technique, printing collaged digital images on resin paper with pigment ink. Are six of the pieces more effective for being illuminated in light boxes? Not appreciably, but it’s difficult to argue with Miller’s assessment of the artist’s privilege: “I like how they look this way.” Actually, he’s right about one work; the two-part “Corporate Communion,” this little exhibition’s most striking effort, looks smashingly eerie and mysterious lit from behind, with the images glowing like alien ghosts.
The theme is clearly stated in the exhibition title, in the titles of the individual works and in the images, which hold up for critical scrutiny and ridicule a number of familiar corporate entities, with emphasis on Walgreens, Target and Pepsi-Cola. Miller, who was raised as a Roman Catholic, cheerfully borrows the compositional structure of the altar-piece and steeple and the concept of the Eucharist to parody the profound impact that the lure of consumerism and the corporate presence has on American life.
Much like Morgan Spurlock’s recent released documentary, “The Greatest Movie Ever Sold,” this exhibition uses the logos of the “target” corporations as an integral part of the compositions, splashing the colorful names of the entities that we can’t live with but can’t seem to live without in a religious context. Church steeples figure heavily in the pieces that are crowded, some more chaotically than others, with iconic and surreal representations, one of the most disturbing being a series of ostriches with bound steeples for beaks.
The most terrifying work in the exhibition, perhaps because it is the simplest contrivance, is, again, the diptych called “Corporate Communion.” In the panel on the right, a “businessman-priest,” glowing eerily blue like a demon and surrounded by smoke, offers a communion wafer that is really the bright red and now ubiquitous Target logo. On the left side, a young woman, also glowing blue and with her hair spread behind her as if it were a bursting galaxy, takes the Target “eucharist” on her tongue and appears to gag and choke. No corporate names are necessary nor jangling maelstrom of pop culture images; here, less is far, far more.
While the works in “Corporatism: The New Religion” are dynamic, gleefully wicked and almost hypnotically visual — you keep tracing clues and details through each piece — they seem strident and heavily thematic compared to the works Miller showed in his Master of Fine Arts Thesis Exhibition at the Art Museum of the University of Memphis in 2010. Those immense, truncated and interwoven photo-narratives had the confidence of a rich imagination and a deep understanding of popular culture married to a perfect technical expression. They revealed Miller’s knowledge of the fact that the imagination transcends the ideas that nudge it into action.
The diptych “Corporate Communion” by Jason
Miller portrays a
man offering a “communion” wafer in the form of a corporate logo as a young woman accepts the “eucharist.”