A New Pop Art Exhibit at the Lowe Is an Homage to the American Diner
Artist John Miller says the idea came to him while he was eating dinner in Illinois. “I was at a diner, and I drew out on a napkin an old-school, crinkly fry,” he says. The ensuing series of sculptures, part of a body of work he calls “Blue Plate Special,” consisted of blown glass renderings of things like hot dogs, sodas, and hamburgers. “It was a combination of where I was physically and what I was doing at the time technically.”
That was back in 1999, and since then Miller has created an entourage of things iconic to the famed American roadside diner, like glasses of Coke and frothy milkshakes. Despite their slow fade from the American landscape, says Miller, “there are quite a few [diners] that still exist.” He knows this because “I do my research by eating, and I have driven to every state.”
The challenge, he says, is to get the children of the owners “hooked early-on [because] if you don’t hand the reins over, the children won’t have the same passion and they’ll sell them off.”
To help keep the nostalgia alive, Miller has created the new “Order Up!” installation, now at the Lowe Museum. The exhibition features 35 pieces of Miller’s oversized glass sculptures of food, drinks, and condiments, contextualized by 1950s diner fixtures and fittings, including a vintage jukebox.
Miller, who teaches glass sculpting at the Art Department of Illinois State University, first came to Miami last year during Art Basel, here to give a lecture at the behest of local art patron and glass-object collector Sheldon Palley. He just happened to bring a collection of his sculptures from the “Blue Plate Special” series, which he installed as a pop-up. Not only did the display lead to the current exhibit, it also led, one month later, to a commission to create a six-foot-tall martini glass for Grey Goose.
For Miller, the exhibit is one of several glass Pop Art series he has created, including “Corsets” (colorful objects enveloped in copper), “The Gathering” (ornate goblets), and “Classic Heat” (a study in auto parts and hood ornaments that reflect his love of cars and road trips).
He calls his work “a combination of Buster Keaton, Claes Oldenburg, and me, all tumbled together. This glass medium that I have committed my whole life to was a great vehicle to project my interests.”
To garner attention for the exhibit, the Lowe Museum has organized The Coral Gables Burger Scavenger Hunt: 12 glass mini burgers, created by Miller, will be hidden at 12 venues in the Gables. Participants include the Coral Gables Youth Center, the Coral Gables Library, Ruth’s Chris Steak House, Capital Burger, the Coral Gables Chamber of Commerce, Books & Books, Misha’s Cupcakes, Coral Gables Art Cinema, Threefold Café, Clutch Burger, and Pincho. See map.
Miller’s sliders will be awarded by random selection from individuals who post selfies on Instagram with the hashtag #wherestheburger. Winners will collect their mini burgers at the “Order Up!” closing party on January 12, 2024, 7 to 9 pm, at the Lowe.
“The only downside of working on this project,” says Lowe Curator Caitlin Swindell, “is that every time I look at the images or write a label, for example, I am immediately hungry and ready for lunch!”
Order Up! The Pop Art of John Miller
October 27 through January 14
Lowe Art Museum at the University of Miami
1301 Stanford Drive