John Miller
An Elixir of Immortality
Schinkel Pavillon, Berlin

Installation view, John Miller, An Elixir of Immortality, Schinkel Pavillon, Berlin – Photo credit: Andrea Rossetti
Installation view, John Miller, An Elixir of Immortality, Schinkel Pavillon, Berlin – Photo credit: Andrea Rossetti
Installation view, John Miller, An Elixir of Immortality, Schinkel Pavillon, Berlin – Photo credit: Andrea Rossetti
Installation view, John Miller, An Elixir of Immortality, Schinkel Pavillon, Berlin – Photo credit: Andrea Rossetti

My Friend, 1990, was the first in what would become an extended series of mannequin works. It was an outgrowth of my brown impasto paintings, which implied an anti Abstract Expressionist polemic. From a technical, semiotic standpoint, I questioned – and mocked – the assumption that a gestural brushstroke could embody an artist’s subjectivity. To this end, I even produced monochrome paintings in which I embedded small, HO scale, plastic figures in gestural strokes of modeling paste. To detect traces of these figures, one would have to look very closely – or perhaps even know they were there beforehand. Part of the joke was that one tends to assume that the monochrome is always already seen, that it is an immediate, reductivist form that harbors no secrets. After the monochromes, I considered the prospect of a brushstroke taking on a life of its own. For this, I purchased a large male mannequin from a retail display store off the Bowery. I still remember the name of the store for obvious reasons: Greenberg Display. I lugged the mannequin home on foot, which was about six blocks away. At the time, I was working in a two bedroom walkup on the Lower East Side – which meant that the mannequin and I had to live in close quarters. Sometimes, when I came home late at night, forgetting it was there, I would do a double-take, as if an intruder had broken in. I bought a blond wig for the mannequin and put my clothes on it – after painting them brown. With this, My Friend seemed to be an appropriate title. The mannequin apparatus projects a kind of upright brushstroke into the gallery, which is also the viewer’s space. As such, the mannequin preempts the viewer, functioning very much like the kind of minimal sculpture that Michael Fried derided in his essay Art and Objecthood (1967). My Friend also suggests an over-the-shoulder shot in cinematography, which aligns the viewer’s gaze with the protagonist’s. I call the mannequin an apparatus because it interpellates the viewer as a subject.

John Miller

We painted naive slogans on the side of our Camper, 1992
wood, polystyrene, plaster, papier mâché, modeling paste, acrylic, plastic sword
100 x 90 x 90 cm

The legend of King Arthur inspired this floor sculpture, namely the story in which only the rightful king of Britain can pull the sword Excalibur from a stone. Painted brown, the stone could be excrement. In turn, removing the sword would hardly present a challenge.

John Miller

Installation view, John Miller, An Elixir of Immortality, Schinkel Pavillon, Berlin – Photo credit: Andrea Rossetti
Installation view, John Miller, An Elixir of Immortality, Schinkel Pavillon, Berlin – Photo credit: Andrea Rossetti

The Middle of the Day, 1994 – present, since John Baldessari passed away recently (2020), I’ve been thinking about him often. I studied with him at CalArts in 1978/79. During one of our meetings, John asked me if I would ever do photography. I simply said, ‘No’. It wasn’t until 1993 when Christoph Tannert and Dean McNeil organized Getting to kNOw You, a show about the AIDS epidemic, at Künstlerhaus Bethanien, Berlin, that I made my first photographs. I think the two invited me to participate based on my brown work, which registers embodiment to a certain extent, but otherwise doesn’t especially pertain to AIDS. Instead, I decided to photograph sites of New York City sex clubs that either closed on their own accord or were closed by government authorities after the outbreak. I found the locations by researching advertisements in back issues of The Village Voice. I called the series Clubs for America in a nod to Dan Graham’s Homes for America (1965). The work of two other artists informed this series as well. Robert Smithson’s non-sites was one: I was photographing an absence, what was no longer there. The other was Ed Ruscha’s book Real Estate Opportunities (1970), which featured photographs of suspiciously vacant lots in Los Angeles. Not surprisingly, Getting to kNOw You highlighted activist work, and the exhibition drew a massive turnout from Berlin’s queer community. I presented my photos with only the series title, which gave viewers little to go on. During the opening and while the show was up, viewers mostly ignored it. Clubs for America, however, found a retrospective audience, including subsequent exhibitions about AIDS and urbanism, such as Douglas Crimp and Lynne Cooke’s Mixed- Use, Manhattan (Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, Madrid, 2010). Since the buildings I shot in 1993 have been torn down, the work now indicates a kind of double absence. Perhaps the fate of all photography is to pile one absence after another on a distant point of origin. After Clubs for America, I wanted to continue working with photography but in a more open-ended way. I decided to shoot pictures – of anything, potentially – between 12:00 and 2:00 pm. I chose this time without knowing that, because the sun is directly overhead, many photographers consider this the worst possible time to shoot a picture. I decided to photograph simply because this is my least favorite time of day. After I got started, I began to ask myself why this was the case. I concluded that, particularly under the Protestant work ethic, midday presents a conflict between the demand to work and the desire to rest. Rather than trying to capture images of people rushing through lunch, etc., I wanted images of anything that carries through this period. Like Clubs for America, I mostly was photographing what one cannot see. Time itself is invisible, even if it inexorably transforms our surroundings through entropy. Perhaps by looking through The Middle of the Day as an archive, one might deduce that I shot all of the photographs in the early afternoon. However, supplementary statements like this one are what convey the framework most clearly. I leave what comprises the photograph open. This open-endedness pertains to everydayness. One definition of what is everyday is that which is insignificant. In The Psychopathology of Everyday Life (1904), however, Sigmund Freud suggested that the significance of everyday events is mostly unrecognizable. This idea drove Surrealism as well as the Situationist International. The Middle of the Day draws inspiration from Giorgio de Chirico’s piazza paintings. In these, the time of day is ambiguous, but one way to interpret them is that de Chirico shows us the middle of a city in the middle of the day, and it is virtually empty. Perhaps because of the siesta. Around the periphery, you can see a locomotive or smokestacks, signs of industry that threaten this way of life. Since 1994, when this project began, photography has changed considerably. I first used a middle-format camera, a Mamiya RZ 67. It was manual, I used a separate light meter. Even so, at this point, I was not yet aware of how the choice of different kinds of cameras can shape the types of images one gets. Later I switched to a 35-mm Nikon. Eventually, I got one with autofocus and autoexpo- 15 16 sure. These features greatly increased the number of usable shots I would get in one outing. With the Mamiya, it might be one or two if I was lucky. Right after switching to the Nikon, I photographed the Love Parade. I shot about four, thirty-six exposure rolls; almost one hundred of the one hundred forty-four exposures were good. In 2002, I switched to a Digital Reflex Camera. Working digitally further increased my shooting ratio, but now it mattered less, since a bad digital shot, unlike film, costs nothing. Storing image files on hard drives also changed the way I worked. Instead of having to maintain a shooting log with notes, I could simply create folders labeled with dates. In 2018 I started shooting with my iPhone and using Adobe’s Lightroom Mobile app, which allows you to take DNG or uncompressed images that are relatively hi-res and which can bed optimize in Lightroom with no degradation. All of the information I might have entered into my shooting log – time, place, aperture, etc. – is now automatically encoded into the Digital Negative file’s metadata. I only mention these technical points to show that photography is essentially a hybridized medium, one that, since its inception, has undergone a continuous transformation, one in which the image acquires an ever-more informational status. With this comes shifts in the social placement of photography. When I began The Middle of the Day, as a person with a camera, I stood out in public. Now, when I’m working in public space, it’s sometimes difficult to get a shot without another photographer in the picture. I have said little about the particular images I shoot. Here is how Dan Graham described two of them in 2010: “One of John Miller’s The Middle of the Day photos depicts a backlot industrial storage area with various halfopen corrugated steel roll-out doors. It’s a small, leftover area. A man stands, hands in his jacket, bounded by slightly irregular open steel fences. He’s a generic non-white worker ‘resting’ on his break. The small culacronym de-sac area is strewn with industrial debris. Miller, a Marxist writer, focuses on the reality of an unproductive, free moment in the work cycle. A second photo by Miller features an empty street, a section of curb and sidewalk strewn with three discarded objects: a small white plastic garbage bag tied shut, a brown paper bag with perhaps uneaten food, and a red, crushed cardboard container, which may be a cigarette box. These still-life droppings are pathetic reminders of the throwaway product casing that make up the productive side of normal life. They have an abject presence in relation to the grey, ordinary street backdrop.”

John Miller

Installation view, John Miller, An Elixir of Immortality, Schinkel Pavillon, Berlin – Photo credit: Andrea Rossetti
What is a Subject?, 2018
Digital video installation 16:9
5:21 min
Installation view, John Miller, An Elixir of Immortality, Schinkel Pavillon, Berlin – Photo credit: Andrea Rossetti
Untitled, 1999/2009/2020
carpet, potatoes
dimensions variable
– Photo Credit: Andrea Rossetti

An SPD red-carpet event inspired this work. It occurred in the courtyard of Kunst-Werke Berlin during Gerhard Schröder’s administration. The organizers laid out a red carpet, running from the street to the entrance of Dan Graham’s Café Bravo. Two small rocks flank the doorway to the café. Instead of adjusting the carpet to go around the rocks, someone simply cut a scallop out of the carpet, as if its vector should stubbornly override all else. My work similarly involves destroying a carpet for a trivial reason: to allow a potato resting on the floor to have direct contact. Viewers tend to side with the potato instead of the carpet.

John Miller

Installation view, Pilars of Salt, Galerie Barbara Weiss, Potsdamer Strasse, Berlin, 1999
Installation view, John Miller, An Elixir of Immortality, Schinkel Pavillon, Berlin – Photo credit: Andrea Rossetti
Installation view, John Miller, An Elixir of Immortality, Schinkel Pavillon, Berlin – Photo credit: Andrea Rossetti
Installation view, John Miller, An Elixir of Immortality, Schinkel Pavillon, Berlin – Photo credit: Andrea Rossetti


John Miller’s practice is deeply intertwined with his practice as a musician. He played in numerous bands in sometimes changing formations over the last four decades. One of his earlier bands were The Poetics, a band which he founded together with Mike Kelley while they were both studying at CalArts in the late 70s.
The selection below consists of documentations of concerts from 2014–2020 the bands are xxx Macarena, The Cornichons, Dirty Mirrors.These concerts often took place in the context of exhibitions, both his own or of other artists, and the context is indicated with each video.

xxx Macarena
Performed at the Ukrainian National Home in New York on May 13, 2014
John Miller: Guitar
Jutta Koether: Keyboards
The Cornichons
Pablo Picasso
Performed at Palazzo Grassi in Venice, Italy on May 9, 2015
John Miller: Guitar 
Aura Rosenberg: Keyboards & vocals 
Servane Mary: Vocals 
Jon Kessler: Guitar 
Jose Martos: Bass 
Dan Walworth: Drums
The Cornichons
Black and Blue
Performed at Palazzo Grassi in Venice, Italy on May 9, 2015
John Miller: Guitar & vocals 
Aura Rosenberg: Keyboards & vocals 
Servane Mary: Tambourine & vocals 
Jon Kessler: Guitar 
Jose Martos: Bass 
Dan Walworth: Drums
Dirty Mirrors
It’s All Going to the Dogs
Performed at St. Vitus Bar in Brooklyn, New York, USA on December 17, 2017
John Miller: Guitar & vocals 
Aura Rosenberg: Keyboards & vocals Jon Kessler: Guitar 
Dan Walworth: Drums
Bill Komoski: Bass
Dirty Mirrors
We could Get It On
Performed at St. Vitus Bar in Brooklyn, New York, USA on December 17, 2017
John Miller: Guitar & vocals 
Aura Rosenberg: Keyboards & vocals Jon Kessler: Guitar 
Dan Walworth: Drums
Bill Komoski: Bass
Dirty Mirrors
His Panic
Performed at Metro Picture in New York, USA on January 30, 2020
John Miller: Guitar & vocals 
Aura Rosenberg: Keyboards & vocals Jon Kessler: Guitar 
Dan Walworth: Drums
Bill Komoski: Bass Blu
Dirty Mirrors
The Judge
Performed at Metro Picture in New York, USA on January 30, 2020
John Miller: Bass
Aura Rosenberg: Keyboards & vocals Jon Kessler: Guitar 
Dan Walworth: Drums
Bill Komoski: Guitar and vocals