This Saturday, while the Retreat has one of its rare slow hours of the day, its next-door neighbor, The Palmer Art Gallery, will be busy with their latest installation. The exhibition, “Looking Machines,” will be open on Dec. 1 through Dec. 23, with an opening reception taking place on Thursday, Dec. 4, from 5 to 7 p.m. The artist, J. Pindyck Miller, and George Laws, a friend of his who works at the Communication office at Vassar, were speeding up their work to install and arrange the sculptures, wall reliefs and other works on paper that will be ready for audiences after the weekend. In the fifth of eight annual shows hosted by the Palmer Gallery, Miller will be showing steel, aluminum and wood sculptures, mixed media wall reliefs, and works on paper in this exhibition. However, the artist doesn’t consider these works to belong to any specific collection, but rather to a lifelong creative process.
“We’re talking about not one series, but a few of them. Some of these works go back a few years and some of these are new. But it’s correct to think of an artist’s work as a stream. It’s always moving forward and a brand new work is always influenced by everything that came before it…[The works] all come from one source, which is somewhere at the back of my head,” Miller said. With a nebulous theme linking the works on display, Miller took into consideration the particularities of the site of the Palmer Gallery and exhibition equipment when selecting the works to display.
“Once I determined that I wanted to do the step displays, we fabricated them. And that determines that I can put a certain amount of sculptures on the step displays. Not too many not too few…. So what you show has to do with the conditions you’re showing in.”
He added, “It’s not really a manner of make a hard and fast decision that such and such work has to be shown. So there’s a lot of chance, rather than a lot of deliberation that goes into the selection of the works,” Miller explained.
The exhibition’s intended universal and simple nature is also reflected by its title: “Looking Machines.” Miller wanted to bring the focus back to “looking” as the essence of art with such a name.
“I came up with the title ‘Looking Machines’ because the purpose of a work of art is to be looked at. And you can say a million other things about it if you want. You can talk about influences; you can talk about materials; you can talk about artist’s intentions. But in the final analysis, someone’s gonna come into this room and they are gonna look at the thing. And they’re gonna relate to it or not relate to it. That encounter is really what it’s all about.”
Educated at Middlebury College and the Brooklyn Museum School, Miller has been exhibiting his art for nearly 50 years. One of his large-scale sculptures is actually on a permanent view at Middlebury.
The State University of New York, Albany, the Mid Hudson Art and Science Center, Stamford Center for the Arts and the Hammond Museum in Westchester have organized retrospective exhibitions of Miller’s work. Miller’s work has been shown at numerous galleries in New York City and his large-scale sculptures have been on view at Storm King Art Center and the Wilderstein Historic Site, among other venues. His works can also be found in the collections of several major corporations and in private collections throughout the United States.
Looking back at his long career, Miller finds a solace in his work, personally and globally. “I really have a sense that the only purpose of life that anyone of us are ever going to be able to fulfill is the sense that we’re looking to attain some grace in the world. Because there’s a lot that ain’t graceful at all. How do you navigate that?”
He continued, “So much of the time we’re still those primitive fearful animals. And getting through life is finding a way away from that primitive animal into a way of dealing with life that’s positive and rewarding, and reaching for that state of grace. All this I do in my life and all this I do in my work,” said Miller.
Monica Church, as the Associate Director of the Palmer Gallery, shared her perspective on the process of bringing the exhibit “Looking Machines” to Vassar.
“We invited J. Pindyck Miller to have a solo exhibition at the Palmer Gallery two years ago after reviewing his submission to the gallery…In addition, his work came highly recommended by members of the Vassar College Community. We are very happy to have the opportunity to exhibit his work at the Palmer Gallery,” she wrote in an emailed statement.
Having seen Miller’s art since the 1980s in a Manhattan gallery, Laws pointed out the role of the machine and utilitarianism of the works on display this time. “With a modernist love of the machine, Miller delights in the meticulous machine-shop craft that is highlighted in his work, and his method, informed but not limited by constructivism. This utilitarian air is made explicit in the exhibition subtitle: ‘Looking Machines,’” Laws commented in the brochure of the show.
He continued, “It is such carefully calibrated details that endlessly reward the viewer, and in which the artist reveals his sense of humor and delight in the work.”
Church is also confident about the reception of the exhibition. “Audiences will have the opportunity to see constructivist forms in wood, corten steel, collage etc. in combination with the beauty of Miller’s sense of color and sensitivity for surface. His paintings, sculpture and collage are incredibly well felt and whether one is interested in form or color they will not be disappointed.”
On the other hand, Miller himself stays open and neutral to what audiences and viewers would get out of his works. “An artist should be equally indifferent to positive and negative responses. And what the viewer takes from the work is a question for him or her to answer,” said the artist.
Ultimately, Miller has a strong conclusion to his exhibition. “When we’re done installing the show, that’s my statement.”