New York

Steve Miller

Josh Baer Gallery

The message and methodology of Steve Miller’s art have always been interesting, and with his most recent show he has succeeded in bringing together these two elements with intelligence and grace. Ideologically, Miller is making the same sort of criticisms in 1988 as he has since 1980, when he worked as a trading adviser in the commodities market. His concerns, like those of many artists in the postindustrial era of global economics and politics, are about the reduction of art to a commodity, and the potential for cultural truths—from the hierarchies of artistic value to the semiotic certainties of language itself—to serve as a reflection and affirmation of society’s entrenched systems of power. Miller is particularly dedicated to examining the implications of the new data-transmission languages employed by the international market. These issues arise at a point of crisis for the values of both the art world and the larger consumer culture, and a spate of recent reassessments of the status quo has done more to dull their subversive sting than to realign their targets’ policies. Indeed, Miller’s agenda seems almost redundant. Yet his pictures seem to take us someplace where most of this art hasn’t taken us before.

The territory staked out here is precisely that of computer technology. And the increasing intensity and sophistication of Miller’s art can be measured in terms of some odd dynamic by which he has simultaneously mastered that technology and allowed it to maintain its own share of control as well. This process confirms the effect of info-entertainment technologies on our culture, yet the results undermine many of the absolutes that have been imposed on communication. The “television screens” that Miller has painted in these works obviate the distinction between the artist’s hand and computer-generated graphics. They compel us to do more than read them—they ask us to experience them, to respond to their visually tactile language. Yet there is no heavy-handedness, no didacticism. Quotation and memory fuse as floating representations; the simultaneously two- and three-dimensional images are hybrids, manifesting the semiotic sheen of painting, video, and data retrieval. There’s a diffused light flickering across and beneath the dense, inscrutable haze of these paintings’ layered surfaces. Periodically, it seems, a media overload of flowing fog explodes in a random-looking aggregate of psychedelic silhouettes. In these enigmas of perception, where does the information end and the static begin? What is representation, what is reproduction, and what is expression?

Carlo McCormick