Ex­hibit takes a swipe at ‘cor­po­ratism’

The Commercial Appeal - Go Memphis - - Art - By Fredric Koep­pel Spe­cial to The Com­mer­cial Ap­peal

“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.”

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