Marc H Miller writer, curator and ephemera collector has been an integral name within the New York art scene since the early 70’s. Charting the rise of names like Andy Warhol right through to Mapplethorpe, he witnessed in all its visceral vibrancy a period that was integral to art on a global perspective.
In his most recent curated exhibition at the James Fuentes Gallery, Marc Miller brings that creatively productive period to life with his collection of ephemera circa 70’s to the turn of the century. It’s a collection which thrusts us back to a time where creative individualism was the order of the day.
Briefly tell us about you and how you came into the art world?
I’m a product of the early days of the counter culture in California. I grew up in the West Hollywood section of Los Angeles and went to school at the University of California at Riverside. At first it was all about politics but I soon became more and more involved with the arts.
Tell us about your interest in art and how you became interested in art?
I was lucky that the University of California Riverside (UCR) had some well-connected Art History teachers. Shirley Hopps (later Shirley Blum) was married to the legendary curator Walter Hopps. She plays a central role in the documentary film The Cool School: Story of the Ferus Art Gallery (2008) providing drama when she left Hopps for the gallery’s other principal. The Ferus famously launched California art in the 1960s and was the leading contemporary art gallery in L.A. Shirley encouraged us to see a very early Andy Warhol show there. Based on her course, I assumed Warhol was already a top-tier artist and was surprised that the Ferus was selling a signed and numbered silkscreen self-portrait by Warhol for $17. It was the first artwork I ever bought and its still the best deal I ever got.
With the advent of the internet and email, art ephemera has largely become a thing of the past. But for someone like me who lived through the 1970s and 1980s…..it is irreplaceable.
We understand you moved to New York from California. Why did you move and how important was the move in your artistic journey?
Shirley encouraged her students to move to New York. As it was the time of the Vietnam War, and going to graduate school was a way to avoid the draft, I ended up studying art history at New York University’s Institute of Fine Arts. By chance I ended up with a large loft on the Bowery, where I was soon involved in the downtown art scene, and began making conceptual art. My roommate at the time was another UCR student, Alan W Moore, for whom Shirley had arranged an internship at Artforum magazine. Alan was a founding member of the artist group Collaborative Projects Inc (COLAB) which in the late 1970s and early 80s was at the heart of all the action. The move was (as it turns out) hugely important to my own artistic journey.
Discuss your own impact on the New York art culture/counter-culture from the 70’s to the 80’s?
I’ve had a diverse career. In the mid-70’s I was very involved with the punk scene at CBGB. The photographs that I took there with my partner Bettie Ringma continue to get a lot of attention. In 1978 I was a lead curator for Punk Art, the first visual art exhibition to overtly latch onto the new counter-culture. More recently I was the co-curator of Hey Ho Let’s Go: Ramones and the Birth of Punk. In the early 80’s I was involved with ART/New York, a video magazine on art, interviewing more than 70 leading artist including Basquiat, Haring and Mapplethorpe. Simultaneously I wrote a column in the East Village Eye. Very little that happened in Downtown New York in the 1970s and 80s got past me. And all the while I was collecting announcements and throwing them into a cardboard box.
The Ephemera exhibition at the James Fuentes Gallery has startling array of pieces that are so grounded in that vibrant time-talk to us about that.
About ten years ago I started the website 98 Bowery, a first-person account of the art and music scene that I experienced from 1969 – 1989. Gallery 98 is an outgrowth of 98 Bowery, an online store that sells related vintage ephemera. At first it drew from my own collections but soon I began to acquire ephemera from other people. Gallery 98 was a hit right from the start. Downtown New York in the 1970s and 80s was an exciting place, and the site provides an affordable way for history-minded collectors to get vintage items connected with the major cultural stars of that era.
The recent exhibition at the James Fuentes Gallery was a rare opportunity to move the ephemera that I had on the Internet into an actual physical space. I wanted the 200-plus pieces not only to tell the story of downtown art at the end of the century but also to demonstrate how the cultural trends at that time fed into the rise of ephemera.
The rise of ephemera seemed a natural process?
For young artists the 1970s was a period of DIY (do-it-yourself) activities. Facing the reality that the existing galleries were no longer taking on new artists, they set up their own artist-run galleries like Fashion Moda in the South Bronx and ABC No Rio in the Lower East Side. To publicize these spaces artists needed to make posters and invitations, an activity that was made easier and cheaper by the new photocopy machines produced by Xerox.
Two other art trends encouraged the rise of ephemera: the emergence of performance art and the reemergence of political art. Today the posters and invitations created by performance artists like Tehching Hsieh are the main record of his important series of year-long performances. Ephemera was also a naturally conducive medium for the immediacy of political art. The Guerrilla Girls, for example, used street posters to spread their message about the widespread discrimination that women artists faced.
The internet has evidently had a negative impact on ephemera.
With the advent of the internet and email, art ephemera has largely become a thing of the past. But for someone like me who lived through the 1970s and 1980s, or for someone just interested in learning about that period, it is irreplaceable. Looking through batches of announcement cards and posters is about as close as one can get to replicating the experience of watching the chaotic way art styles co-exist before eventually coalescing into a coherent art history.
MARC H MILLER//JAMES FUENTES MILLER